[deck]Statistics Canada’s potato acreage estimates are flat to down for 2014, but coast-to-coast, Canada’s growers are optimistic.[/deck]
Statistics Canada’s production estimates for 2014, released this July, identify the total planted acreage in Canada as 348,221 acres. Overall, this represents a reduction of 7,117 acres over last year. As with last year’s crop, the reduction stem from decreases in processing contracts, especially in Manitoba, as well as the long winter and slow start to planting this spring.
Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada, says that despite reductions in contract volume and prices, growers are generally optimistic across the country.
“The contract situation went down this year,” he says. “It went down from 2.5 to four per cent across the country in terms of pricing, and volume has also been reduced in all areas except Alberta.”
MacIsaac adds that in the United States, the situation has been similar — the western states were flat in terms of volume but experienced price reductions, while the eastern states saw reductions in both price and volume.
However, since processors entered into negotiations with growers, MacIsaac says new information has come out indicating that the export situation is stronger than initial reports had suggested.
“In the month of April in the U.S., frozen potato product exports climbed to a new record,” he says. “And similarly, in Canada, the exports are very strong in terms of volume or tonnage and in terms of price — we saw about an eight per cent increase in dollar value for fry exports, and tonnage is up 1.4 per cent.”
Initially friers saw an increase in domestic demand for potatoes, which they attributed to the end of a long winter, but numbers remained high into June, according to MacIsaac. “French fry companies in a lot of areas were caught by surprise, so they’re having difficulty getting enough raw product for fries,” he says.
“Potatoes have already been committed to the fresh channel or are not available this late in the season. So some of the processing plants will start earlier than they would in the new crop.”
The unexpected increased demand for potatoes in Canada has removed some potatoes from holdings, which is positive for fresh potato growers — and for pricing.
“It’s good for table prices, and it means there’s less table in the system,” says MacIsaac. “In Canada, we’ve enjoyed pretty decent prices throughout the year. We expected to see more of a bump upwards at the end of the season. Pricing has been around $2 per 10-pounder, up to $2.50 for a 10-pound bag.”
While the processing sector began the season under a cloud due to reductions in price and volume, the resurgence in demand may spell good news for processing growers down the road, although MacIsaac says the numbers still need further analysis.
It’s difficult to predict how the late start to planting in many provinces will impact the overall yield potential, but MacIsaac is positive. “I don’t see the late spring being an issue,” he says. “It’s funny the way the growing season can work — the right moisture and heat and it’s amazing what can happen.”
In New Brunswick, potato acreages are down by 416 acres to a total of 47,584 acres.
“We expected a slight reduction in acres this year, as processing contracts have been reduced for the upcoming season,” says Louis Ouellette, market information co-ordinator for Potatoes New Brunswick. He says cuts in processing volume will likely result in decreased seed acres, although tablestock acres should remain generally flat or experience a slight decrease.
According to Ouellette, New Brunswick’s planting season started about two weeks later than normal but was followed by good weather. “Last year’s crop got planted late and had more rain than needed. That being said, the yields last year were good to very good,” he says.
“So far this season has seen good weather, so the potatoes are getting a good start. We can only hope for good growing weather for the rest of the season and the same at harvest time.”
Prince Edward Island
Potato acreages In Prince Edward Island are similar to last year’s figures. The 2014 acreage is up by 1,500 acres to 90,500 acres in total.
“A reduction in contract price for french fry potatoes, some growers exiting the industry, and land limitations due to rotation requirements all contributed to planting decisions this spring,” says Gary Linkletter, chair of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board.
According to Linkletter, planting in P.E.I. got off to a slow start due to a cool and wet spring, with the early crop going into the ground about two weeks behind schedule.
“Once the weather turned around, the Island experienced a stretch of sunny days and the main crop went in the ground in a timely basis,” he says. “Warm temperatures and rain in mid-June are promoting good growth so far.”
In Quebec, potato acreage is up by 988 acres to a total of 43,243 acres.
According to Clement Lalancette, director general of le Fédération des producteurs de pommes de terre du Québec, seeding in la belle province began seven to 10 days later than average this year in southern Quebec, although weather conditions in other areas remained good.
“Early potatoes should be available around July 10, a few days later than last year,” he says. “Acreage should remain stable in all sectors except in the chip sector — we expect a decrease in chip contracts. Contract volumes for processing should be at the same level than last year. We have a rollover for processing prices.”
While Lalancette says it is too early to make predictions about yield, he does expect to see at least average yields throughout the province.
Last year, Quebec fresh potato exports were cut nearly in half due to a glut of potatoes in Idaho, but UPGC’s MacIsaac is not sure if production in that state will have the same impact on the province this year. “Quebec packers would report that they’ve had some good movement into the U.S.,” he says.
“On the fresh side, I would say they and a lot of other areas of the country are finding an excess of red potatoes in the market right now. Normally reds are premium, but in this particular year there’s been some good quality stored right to the end.”
The 2014 potato acreage in Ontario is down 2,500 acres to 35,500 acres in total.
In that province, where the main business is in tablestock and chip processing potatoes, the processing industry has seen acreage decreases at about five per cent, while tablestock has remained flat or increased slightly, says noted potato researcher and grower Peter VanderZaag, owner of Sunrise Potato.
“In Ontario we’re trying to recover some of our tablestock market for ourselves,” he says. “We have to be more creative about getting consumers to eat fresh potatoes. The growth in specialty markets and for specialty varieties is increasing, and hopefully these niche markets will develop and grow and help us recover some business that we’ve lost.”
VanderZaag says Ontario’s growers anticipated a late spring due to a harsh winter, but farmers found the spring weather to be very conducive to planting the potato crop.
“The last part of May and early June were dry — so the crop got in fairly fast after the weather turned around,” says VanderZaag. Some areas received a lot of rain, he adds, but cool temperatures in June saw excellent emergence in almost all areas, and the early crop is tuberizing right on schedule.
“We’re very optimistic,” says VanderZaag, adding that overall, yield potential looks good in Ontario. “We don’t know what will happen, but we have the makings of a good crop. The tuber set will be very good with the cool June.”
In Manitoba, fewer processing acres contracted for 2014 means a reduction in acreage by 6,616 acres to a total of 63,384 acres.
According to Dan Sawatzky, manager of Keystone Potato Producers Association, Manitoba saw perhaps the harshest cuts in contracts and subsequent acreage declines this year. He estimates processing acres will be down to about 43,000 acres, largely due to McCain cutting french fry-contracted acres in the province by about 19 per cent.
Sawatzky also estimates that seed potato acreage will be down about five per cent. “We’re at about 7,600 acres this year, down about 300 from last year,” he says. “It looks like fresh will be up about five per cent or so — 9,200 or 9,240 acres this year versus 8,800 acres last year.”
Delays due to poor weather conditions resulted in the crop going in about 10 days late on average, Sawatzky says. He adds that yield potential is uncertain at this point, because of the delay in planting this year’s crop.
“It’s quite variable — some people are anticipating a pretty decent crop — they got their potatoes in a little behind but they feel they are starting to catch up…. The Carmen area seems to be pretty strong,” he says.
“It’s mixed — some guys are pretty positive, and for some guys this is one of the toughest springs they’ve had.”
In Saskatchewan, the 2014 potato acreage is down 469 acres to 6,531 acres in total.
Desseri Ackerman, manager of the Saskatchewan Seed Potato Growers Association, says reports from producers indicate slightly fewer acres have been planted to potatoes in that province this year compared to 2013 across all sectors.
“Despite the late spring this year, potatoes went in quickly, with minimal delays related to moisture,” she says. Ackerman adds heavy rainfall at the end of June may affect some potato production, but the extent of crop damage is not yet known.
Ackerman says it is hoped that the recently signed potato cyst nematode testing agreement, which calls for less testing than in previous years, will decrease costs for producers and allow them to access past markets.
Potato acreage in Alberta is up by 851 acres to 53,334 total acres in 2014.
According to Terence Hochstein, executive director of the Potato Growers of Alberta, acreage in Alberta is fairly flat, with seed slightly down and fresh up, and processing acres remaining about the same as in 2013. Growers are optimistic due to their ability to maintain processing volumes, even with a slight cut in prices.
“I don’t think we’ll have the bumper crops we did last year, but how do you know? It is so hard to predict. The potential is there to have a good year,” says Hochstein.
Alberta producers saw generally good growing conditions this spring. Hochstein says that while the crop went in late, good weather allowed growers to make up most of this time, although many areas could have used some more heat in the spring.
Hochstein says Alberta growers are also staying ahead of the curve in terms of late blight prevention, with some growers already spraying fungicides by mid-June.
In British Columbia, potato acreage is down by 31 acres and stands at 6,169 acres in total.
Tom Demma, general manager of the B.C. Vegetable Marketing Commission, says decent weather this spring allowed growers to get the crop in on time. Demma says that if favourable growing conditions persist over the summer, growers are optimistic about the prospects for a good harvest in terms of yield and quality come this fall.