Agronomyspud summer eye on the nation

spud summer eye on the nation



By Gary Linkletter, Chairman P.E.I. Potato Board

Prince Edward Island, like the rest of North America, experienced a cool and wet spring. Despite recent warm weather, at time of writing, our crop development is still about a week behind 2010. That being said, there is still potential for a good crop depending on the conditions for the rest of the growing season.

The P.E.I. crop has cleaned up nicely. Processors were buying open potatoes in May and June, which took many of the potatoes that had been released earlier in the year from processing contracts. Many packing sheds indicated they ended up finishing several weeks earlier than expected. Unfortunately, while numbers indicated there was a good balance between supply and demand for the 2010 crop, and that the global potato supply was low, there seemed to be reluctance for a coordinated effort to push the market price up. Local 10-pound bags did not move above $2.00 FOB until the week of June 16. As an industry, we left a lot of money on the table.

We have good production and marketing information for our local industry, and P.E.I. projections for disposition have been very accurate over the past few years. The efforts of the United Potato Growers organizations in both Canada and the United States are resulting in more accurate numbers, which are available to growers who are members. The challenge is to encourage growers to look at the numbers on a regular basis and utilize this information when making marketing decisions.

While an increase in fall production is expected, particularly in the western United States, Alberta and Manitoba, we need to keep in mind that much of this increase is in response to increases in processing contract volume in these areas. Numbers on projected utilization will help industry members focus on what the supply of potatoes is for the fresh market, not total production—the challenge will be to price accordingly.

By Tom Demma, General Manager B.C. Vegetable Marketing Commission

As this is written, the B.C. main potato crop is in the ground, with early potatoes becoming available in retail establishments. With the storage crop seeded, it now awaits growing conditions conducive to the crop going into storage in good condition this fall. Given last year’s harvesting circumstances, and the havoc wrought by difficult harvesting conditions, B.C. potato producers are looking forward to crop volumes meeting good to better prices during the 2011/12 crop year.

Following the tough 2010 fall season, which resulted in an overall volume reduction, seeding in the spring of 2011 was just as challenging. This was due to persistent cool, wet weather through the March to mid-May stretch. Similar to other potato-producing regions, the B.C. storage potato crop of 2011 went in late, leaving a number of unanswered harvest-related questions, namely yield, size and quality. At this moment in time, the operative words are “wait and see.”

In many respects the western Canadian potato market takes its signals from what is occurring in the U.S. Pacific Northwest potato industry. For 2011, industry analysts are reporting a year over year increase in U.S. potato acreage, which, in the normal course, holds a price-lowering potential. However, at this date it is too early to say whether or not the anticipated market-influencing volume increase resulting from the higher planted acres proves out. This is because weather and crop growing conditions affecting yield remain the major determinants influencing aggregate U.S. fall harvested potato volume. This is yet again another “wait and see” situation.

By Garry J. Sloik, Manager Keystone Potato Producers’ Association

What a difference a year can make! In 2010, Manitoba processing potato growers were virtually done planting potatoes by May 12, the earliest in recent memory. In 2011, there are reports of planting on June 20, and a small acreage will not get planted at all.

The acreage planted this year will be 3,000 to 4,000 acres more than last year, and we often get asked what the acreage will be. Most reports from area to area indicate acreage, but this year it is almost an irrelevant question. It will take a major miracle for the production this year to be equal to last year’s, and it is cwt. that we sell, not acres.

The lateness of the spring, the wet, cool soil conditions, and lack of heat and sunshine put this crop well behind last year, and how much “catch-up” can occur will determine the size of the crop. Producers need to keep monitoring the crop and conditions across North America because for most producers, it is a North American market. Why is this important? For contract growers the price is already determined—the importance is the opportunity to sell any above-contract volume at the best price possible. It is your chance to capitalize on a good crop when Mother Nature gives you the opportunity. Many production areas are caught up in the hustle of harvest and miss the chance to get a higher market price.

Hopefully, the market for frozen products will increase, or at least maintain the same level, which is strongly influenced by the U.S. economy. I raise this as strongly influenced by the U.S. economy, but not totally, as a corporate decision to change serving sizes can have an equally dramatic effect on our “market.” Currently, I believe the market must be strong when you hear of potatoes from the East Coast going by truck, then rail, then truck again to North Dakota and even Washington State. There has also been a strong movement of over 1 million cwt. from Washington State to Alberta. The 2010 crop pipeline will be empty or near to empty as timely distribution will allow.

The late planting, virtually coast to coast, will affect the yield potential in most areas—other than Washington State, which has an extended season—as they need to harvest at the same time as usual, or take the substantial risk of frost damage. It will be an interesting summer and fall of crop watching.

By John Morrison, Regional Communications Officer Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Scientists at the PRC are working on new potato varieties with higher yields and greater genetic resistance to late blight disease and the Colorado potato beetle. The higher yields are achieved using less fertilizer and water, and the disease and insect resistance will result in less pesticide use. Some of these desirable traits are already available in current varieties and are being adapted as part of the potato breeding program.

Other traits available in wild potato species native to Central and South America are being studied, as genes found in these wild potatoes act as reservoirs in breeding “eco-friendly” potatoes.

Fredericton scientist David de Koeyer spent the last year studying the genetics of some of these South American potatoes at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, and has returned with a better understanding of how this genetic material can be incorporated into potato research in Fredericton. The goal is greater environmental and economic benefit for farmers and Canadians by lowering production costs and improving environmental health.

By Edzo Kok, Executive Director Potato Growers of Alberta

The 2011 season started out very wet in Alberta. Potato growers didn’t get into the fields until the last days of April—two weeks later than normal. The first days of May brought more rain, and planting didn’t get going in earnest until May 5. Mother Nature cooperated from then on and after 15 days of no rain the potato crop was in. This was ahead of last year, but still two weeks behind average.

Acreage in Alberta is up significantly this year, as all fry processors returned volume that had eroded in previous years due to the economic downturn. Planted acreage in Alberta will be the highest in eight years.

Growing conditions immediately after planting were cool and very wet. With soil moisture conditions being quite high, the land was not able to handle any heavy rain events, and those producers that did experience large amounts ended up with lost acres. The sun and heat has returned to Alberta, and we are expecting an average crop based on current conditions.

Upcoming event: Alberta Potato Conference and Trade Show, November 15–17, 2011
Deerfoot Inn and Casino, Calgary, Alberta
For details and registration information, visit

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