Spring 2021 Cross Canada Check in with Potato Associations

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Photo: Craig Clark from Pixabay

Here is your provincial potato association updates from across Canada for the spring 2021 issue of Spud Smart.

Potato Growers of Alberta logo
Photo: Potato Growers of Alberta

Alberta

By: Terence Hochstein, executive director of the Potato Growers of Alberta

The is an old saying that “When March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb”. It can also be said that the opposite sometimes can be true. Let us hope winter doesn’t return with a vengeance at the end of the month. After the entire province experienced one of the coldest last two weeks of February in many winters, the first part of March has been exceptionally warm. So much so that the southern part of the province could do with a couple of heavy, wet snowstorms before the start of planting season. There have been several days with excessive wind events that have dried out the surface moisture in most of the open fields.

The 2020 seed crop is moving at a relatively steady pace with much of the United States shipments either complete or wrapping up in the next three to four weeks. The Alberta process growers are starting to ramp up to receive their seed starting in the next couple of weeks. Here’s hoping the turn of events from last spring doesn’t leave our seed growers with a large volume of excess seed, with no sales for their product. No seed operation should have to endure what our seed industry had to last year, nor should the rest of the industry have to cut acres back at the last moment. Even with the continued discussions between industry, the provinces, and the federal government, the current BRM suite of programs continues to fall way short in providing any sort of financial assistance to anyone involved in the potato industry.

Normally this column would be reflecting on the success of our annual potato conference and tradeshow from this past November, but like everyone else who would have held a fall, winter, or spring conference, all of us hand to host a virtual conference or altogether cancel our event. Let’s hope that next fall these events are allowed to resume to an in-person format.

Contract talks continue in earnest across North America in hopes that a mutually beneficial contract can be reach between the growers and their respective processors. The long-term sustainability of food production and the families that produce it, is at the forefront of many of the discussions which are being held this spring.

BC Vegetable Marking Commission logo
Photo: BC Vegetable Marking Commission

British Columbia

By: Hugh Reynolds with Reynalda Farms in Delta, B.C.

We are hoping for an average potato growing summer in 2021 and are developing a plan to market those potatoes. There is a 60 per cent chance of a transition from la nina to ENSO-neutral during the northern hemisphere for spring 2021. In British Columbia we watch the storms coming at us off the Pacific Ocean.

Recent years have given us subpar growing conditions in North America with subpar potato harvests. In fact, we have reduced the grading requirements to allow two-inch potatoes to be put into a paper bag sewn shut and labelled as Canada No. 1 — this has the buyer purchase the bag and go home before being disappointed.

There is a 60 per cent chance the weather this year, which is not too hot, too cool, too wet and too dry, will result in a large crop of wonderful sized and coloured potatoes. There will be fewer days spent spraying and irrigating to produce the best crop in several years. Use these extra days to take your partner and kids fishing because this does not happen often enough.

Most farmers have a marketing agency selling our potatoes. You will know the year starts off right if most of the potatoes are planted in May with the planter, washed and put away by the middle of June. Occasional gentle rains with sunny periods will keep the potatoes growing up to their genetic potential and you will know great results are possible. The sales agent does not know this, and it’s up to the grower to tell them there is a premium crop of high value to sell. They need to know this early to develop a marketing plan to sell cartons of count size of potatoes. Look them directly in the eye and say this year many two-inch potatoes will be fed to the cows. If they don’t return your glance, you may be in the wrong office.

We will have more confidence in this prediction at the United Potato Growers Transition meeting on June 22. Unfortunately, B.C. is still experiencing La Nina and our normal early white plantings in March are delayed.

Keystone Potato Producers Association logo
Photo: Keystone Potato Producers Association

Manitoba

By: Dan Sawatzky, general manager of the Keystone Potato Producers Association

Congratulations to Spud Smart for hosting the recent virtual Canadian Spud Congress. Thank you to all who contributed to planning, participating and organizing the event. It was good to provide the format to bring Canada’s potato industry together.

In Manitoba we are missing the in-person meetings which we are accustomed to. COVID-19 has prevented the annual Manitoba Potato Production Days and other grower segment specific meetings throughout the past year. We anticipate the relaxing of restrictions as vaccination rollouts bring hope of meeting as we once did.

Coming off a short crop in 2020 and with COVID-19 affecting markets, processors continue to make adjustments in covering their needs. One has stopped the import of raw supply while the other continues to bring outside product in. Working together with processors to keep plants operating efficiently is everyone’s goal. Looking ahead in 2021, contract talks have been slow. Seed is beginning to move out to farms and supply is tight this year. Contract volumes were announced early which has helped with producer planning although working toward a contract value prior to planting assists in the grower’s ability to make final cropping plans.

The dry growing conditions last year and the blessing of having ideal harvest conditions last fall has factored into below normal soil moisture going into the winter. Manitoba has seen very little snowfall to date with little runoff currently available to fill off stream reservoirs. Additional snow or timely spring rains will be needed for the capture of water to fill some of these water storages. Approximately 15 to 20 per cent of irrigated Manitoba potato acreage draws from this source. Another irrigation source requiring management is the Shellmouth Dam situated near the Saskatchewan border along the Assiniboine River. At the start of March the decision was made to minimize the flow out of the dam to keep the Lake of the Prairies at a sustainable level to manage river levels over the summer.

As farmers across the country look forward to another crop year, we wish them success.

Potatoes New Brunswick logo
Photo: Potatoes New Brunswick

New Brunswick

By: Matt Hemphill, executive director for Potatoes New Brunswick

The 2020 New Brunswick potato crop is storing very well. With the drought last summer, the profile is ideal, we just didn’t have the yields we would normally expect. Lower yields have caused supply within the province in all sectors to be very tight. I think it’s safe to say, processors are running below stated capacity due to the tight supply of raw product throughout the Atlantic north east. Payables are good, so that helps with some of the decreases in revenue.

Fresh potato packers are also struggling with limited supply of raw. New Brunswick packers are bringing potatoes in from neighbouring provinces and states to fulfill their customers’ needs. Fresh potato prices are good, but this is mainly due to a lack of supply.

The seed sector is no different, product is storing well, however supplies will be tight. PVY levels have never been lower in New Brunswick, the quality will be one of the best we have seen in years.

All winter and spring potato meetings in New Brunswick have or will be moved to a virtual format. We decided to postpone our annual potato conference and trade show and hope things get back to somewhat “normal” in February next year.

Ontario Potato Board logo
Photo: Ontario Potato Board

Ontario

By: Kevin Brubacher, general manager of the Ontario Potato Board

As we start to see signs in Ontario that winter is coming to an end, we realize another potato season is just on the horizon. Due to the global pandemic, these past few months have been like nothing we have experienced before. With these signs of spring becoming more prominent every day, the anticipation and excitement to get back in the field is higher than ever. Planting is just around the corner!

The Ontario Potato Conference and Trade Show took on a different name and format this year. The Ontario Potato Webinars took place March 4, 2021 in a virtual format. Eugenia Banks once again put together a world class program with a lineup of speakers who interested growers from across Canada. Thank you, Eugenia, for your ongoing dedication and hard work to support the potato industry. I would also like to thank the wonderful speakers for sharing their knowledge with the industry, our dedicated sponsors and Potatoes in Canada for hosting the event.

I would like to wish you all a successful spring season!

Prince Edward Island Potato Board logo
Photo: Prince Edward Island Potato Board

Prince Edward Island

By: Wayne Townshend, board chairman of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board

I believe that across the country we are looking forward to putting the past season behind us for both human (COVID-19) and market access/plant health issues. There is always a sense of optimism in the spring and this year is no exception. We are all looking forward to a more normal year.

The winter has been interesting with many more extension opportunities available to growers.  The virtual format has given growers the chance to view presentations at online conferences hosted from potato growing regions across North America. Maybe even after COVID has subsided, the wider access to learning events will continue. We have been fortunate in P.E.I. to be able to also enjoy small grower gatherings in order to receive local research updates. There is definitely more interaction at these in-person events.

Seed quality was good in 2020, but supplies have been tight in the east due to the drought conditions that reduced yield in 2020.  Table stock shipments are steady, and prices have remained strong throughout the winter. Processing contract negotiations are underway and growers across North America are looking to see contract volumes return to pre-COVID levels.

We all grew an amazing crop that has weathered the pandemic relatively well — potatoes are considered a food staple and a comfort food, both characteristics which have helped to maintain demand. The challenge we need to meet now is keeping potatoes at the forefront as society and the economy open up and people return to a pre-COVID lifestyle.

Les Producteurs de pommes de terre du Québec logo
Photo: Les Producteurs de pommes de terre du Québec

Quebec

By: Sarah-Maude Larose-Lavallée, project officer for Les Producteurs de pommes de terre du Québec

The 2020 potato crop faced challenging weather events, from dry conditions in growing areas to a difficult harvest, but growers managed to store only slightly below average supplies. Though, fresh table potato packers are struggling with higher cullage due to frost and water damage and a limited supply of raw. All indication points to packers running out of supply before the availability of new crop. Movement has been ahead of last years’ and relatively steady since Christmas.

Overall holdings as of Feb. 1 are down three per cent compare to the five-year running average. Market demand is also above average in the chip sector, and all the supply is needed to meet the processors needs. At the time of writing in March, 2021 process negotiations are still to initiate.

The Quebec potato board held their annual seed potato day virtually on Feb. 26, 2021, where growers and industry representatives had the opportunity to discuss the main challenges, current issues, and overview the last and present marketing season in order to support the industry going forward.

Our 2021 annual general meeting happened on March 31.

Saskatchewan Seed Potato Growers' Association Inc. logo
Photo: Saskatchewan Seed Potato Growers’ Association Inc.

Saskatchewan

By: Matthew E. Lawless, president of the Saskatchewan Seed Potato Growers’ Association Inc.

Winter seems to be drawing to a close across Saskatchewan, and the first signs of spring are always a welcome sight. Seed potato growers in the province are working hard, day in and day out, shipping top-quality seed across North America, preparing land and equipment for planting, and sorting out all the details for the cropping season ahead. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is not impacting seed markets this year as was experienced in the spring of 2020, and for that, growers are grateful.

The pandemic did impact how growers networked this past winter, as we all know. SSPGA was proud to be a partner and exhibit in the Canadian Spud Congress, and we send thanks to the whole team at Spud Smart for pulling off a memorable virtual conference for our industry. Here’s hoping we see you all in-person next winter!

SSPGA growers will continue to monitor irrigation development in our province, as consultations are presently occurring relative to the Lake Diefenbaker irrigation expansion project, and preliminary work should begin within the next 12 to 18 months. Other priorities for SSPGA in the coming season include collaborative research with the University of Saskatchewan and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, as well as market development.

We wish all potato growers across Canada a safe and productive planting season. Please take care out there!

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