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Pile of potatoes

Market News Winter 2020

Potato production rose four per cent in Canada last year, even with difficult harvest conditions that limited the crop in Manitoba and Alberta.

Total potato production in Canada in 2019 was 106.6 million hundredweight, a four per cent increase from 2018, according to Statistics Canada figures released Dec. 13. The 2019 figures also show an average potato yield in Canada of just over 312 hundredweight per acre, a seven per cent increase from the previous year.

According to Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada, the total production number could have been considerably higher if not for difficult harvest conditions in Manitoba and Alberta, which resulted in thousands of acres of potatoes being left in the ground.

The total amount of unharvested potato acres in 2019 was just under 20,300 acres, with approximately 13,000 of those acres in Manitoba. There were 4,400 acres left unharvested in Alberta, according to the Stats Can report. 

MacIsaac noted that in Manitoba, “it was a very nice-looking crop all through the growing season. It would have been tremendous if they had been able to get that harvested.”

South of the border, total potato production in 2019 was 422.4 million hundredweight, according to estimates released in November by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is down 2.2 per cent from the 2018 crop, which totalled 431.8 million hundredweight. 

STORAGE HOLDINGS

According to UPGC figures, the total number of potatoes in storage in Canada was 69.6 million hundredweight Jan. 1, 2020. That’s up 4.6 per cent from the same time in 2019, when storage holdings totaled 66.5 million hundredweight.

MacIsaac said the Jan. 1 holdings were very close (within 0.5 per cent) to the 2017-2019 three-year average for that date, namely 69.2 million hundredweight of potatoes.

Prince Edward Island saw its storage holdings rise 10.2 per cent on Jan. 1 from the same period last year. Other provinces with sizable storage holdings increases were Quebec (7.3 per cent), Ontario (6.3 per cent) and Alberta (4.5 per cent). There was a slight increase in storage holdings, 0.7 per cent, in Manitoba. 

On the other side of the ledger, British Columbia experienced the biggest decline in storage holdings, with a 17 per cent drop from the same time in 2019. Storage holdings were also down, albeit slightly, in New Brunswick, which saw 0.2 per cent drop from the same period last year. 

The amount of fresh potatoes in storage nationally was higher on Jan. 1 over the previous year, MacIsaac noted. With more potatoes in storage this year, he said, it will make things easier for marketers distributing the 2019 crop. 

“A year ago, we were short and had difficulty stretching the fresh crop to the end of the storage season,” said MacIsaac, adding that pricing to date had been very good.

MacIsaac pointed out that on the processing side, the amount of potatoes in storage nationally was up about 750,000 hundredweight on Jan. 1 from the same time the previous year — which could cause supply problems in the coming months.

“That’s going to be an issue, because a lot more supply is needed on the processing side to keep up with the processing expansions,” he said. MacIsaac explained because of increased processing capacity in Manitoba and Alberta, processing plants in both provinces will likely need to import potatoes from elsewhere in the coming months. 

Some are expected to come from Idaho; however, like some other American states, the large spud producer experienced major potato losses due to poor harvest conditions in 2019, MacIsaac said.

MacIsaac believes in Canada some harvested potatoes destined for the fresh market could be moved over to the processing sector, which would reduce fresh piles in storage and could end up strengthening prices for table potatoes. 

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