Eye on the Nation

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Prince Edward Island

By Gary Linkletter, Chairman, Prince Edward Island Potato Board

After the Christmas and New Year holiday season, the potato industry on Prince Edward Island is  gearing up for meeting season, and there are numerous options for growers and those who work with and represent growers.

On January 18, P.E.I. growers will have the opportunity to attend the United Potato Growers of Canada Partners Seminar sponsored by Bayer CropScience. Island potato growers will be meeting to discuss the latest developments in the North American potato market and the outlook for the 2012 crop. Supply and demand conditions across North America and around the world impact the profitability of each of our farms. The United Potato Partners seminars provide an excellent opportunity to find out more about the factors that will affect us for the remainder of the 2011/12 marketing season and impact our 2012 crop prospects.

Several general sessions are scheduled for growers and farm workers, such as our local P.E.I. Potato Conference on February 2, which will focus on technical updates and research results; the International Potato Technology Expo from February 24 to 25, which will kick off with a breakfast meeting, followed by a tradeshow exhibiting the latest in production, storage and packing technology; a Farm Succession Workshop on February 27; and the Soil and Crop Improvement Association Conference from February 28 to 29.

Sessions will also be offered over the next few months that focus on specific skills and certification. These include numerous opportunities to obtain credits to keep your Pesticide Applicator’s certification current, as well as forklift and truck driving courses. The Potato Board, along with the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture and the provincial Departments of Environment and Agriculture, aims to hold sessions that will increase awareness of buffer zone regulations and allow growers to work one-on-one with staff to determine how these regulations affect their own fields.

While it is impossible to take in all of the opportunities offered, growers have a wide selection of training opportunities that can help them continue to improve the efficiency and profitability of their farm operations.

BRITISH COLUMBIA

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

The 2011 potato main crop now in storage is nicely making its way through various domestic marketing channels. Potatoes have held up well in storage with few, if any, quality issues evident. The end of the marketing season of storage potatoes is expected to occur at the customary time of late spring.

Those familiar with B.C. agriculture know the end of marketing the previous year’s storage potato crop is preceded by the planting of the 2012 early potato crop which, subject to weather at seeding time and during the growing period, becomes available in late May. While early potatoes are being harvested, attention will be focused on getting the 2012 main crop in the ground. With good weather, planting of the main crop should be completed by mid-June.

This year pricing in B.C. is similar to last year, and as is always the case, it coincides with what is occurring in the United States, particularly the Pacific Northwest. As compared to 2010, the 2011 harvest saw few acres abandoned; consequently, a normal supply of potatoes entered storage and is now servicing tablestock requirements of B.C. wholesalers and retailers. The 2011 seed potato crop was much better volume-wise compared to 2010, and customary volumes are on hand for servicing demand within and outside the province.

It is interesting to note that at the start of marketing the 2011 crop, reasonably good prices prevailed other than for count size potatoes, where 2011 prices were weaker compared to 2010. This phenomenon mirrors what is occurring in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

During the latter part of the U.S. Pacific Northwest 2011-2012 marketing season, market prognosticators are calling for prices to strengthen somewhat. It is interesting to note, however, that in part the gross income gain may be lost to competition due to higher input prices during the 2011 cropping and harvest period. These reported higher input costs are the subject of a University of Idaho extension economists 2011 potato cost of production report.

No doubt, and regardless of location north or south of the 49th parallel, growers are thinking about or settling on 2012 seeding decisions. In part, these decisions will take into consideration comparative crop-by-crop enterprise contribution analysis for determining actual or projected annual whole farm net income.

Canadian Potato Council

By Keith Kuhl, Chairman, Canadian Potato Council

A few areas where the Canadian Potato Council has been active during the past year:

Canadian Partners in Quality CPIQ

The revised CPIQ program was finalized and released during the summer of 2011. This program allows growers/shippers who have been approved to ship without CFIA inspection.

Bio Security

The Bio Security Standard will provide potato producers with guidance on the best proactive approach to minimize the risk of introduction and spread of disease and pests through implementation of good biosecurity practises at the farm level. This working group is very active and hopes to complete the standard by summer of 2012.

Plant Pest Response

The Plant Pest Response working group held their first meeting last week. Potatoes and Greenhouse have been selected as pilot commodities to develop a strategy. Over the next months we will look to gather information from other countries.

Farm Records

The Farm Records Working Group is working with Farm Credit Canada and global positioning system manufacturers with the hope that we can link GPS units with office computers to allow automatic transfer of data. The goal is to maximize electronic transfer of data which should simplify the Food Safety System for producers.

Research Working Group

During the past months this working group has held two meetings with AAFC. These meetings have improved communication between industry and government. This improved communication will translate into research which is more applicable at the producer level.

In addition to all of these developments, David Jones joined the Canadian Horticultural Council in November. David is fully dedicated to work with the Canadian Potato Council and to assist with the various working groups and projects.

Finally, it is only through countless hours of volunteer service that we as the Canadian Potato Council can continue to provide services to the Canadian Potato Industry. I would like to thank all of the people who volunteer time for the various working groups and projects.

Manitoba

By Garry Sloik, Manager, Keystone Potato Producers’ Association

2011 was the year of extremes for many Manitoba potato producers—from a wet spring to late plantings, to overly-wet conditions, to a drought in August, capped off by a mid-September frost.

Growers entered the spring somewhat optimistically, expecting the acreage to be up five per cent due to extra processing contract volumes. However, planting was dragged out by wet fields and the record flood on the Assiniboine River. As a result, for the first time in a number of years, significant acreage was planted in June.

The southern area remained extremely wet in June and about five per cent of the planted acreage was lost. Then the rain stopped, and by August irrigation was running steadily. Early September saw hot temperatures that quickly matured the crop. Unfortunately, two nights of frost in mid-September halted any further bulking.

On the positive side, the dry harvest has led to a very storable crop, and few growers have had major issues with late blight or pink rot. Overall, there was about a 10 per cent reduction in volume.

United Potato Growers of Canada

By Kevin MacIsaac, General Manager, United Potato Growers of Canada

When Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced a few years ago that it would no longer be preparing the monthly Canadian potato storage holdings, the provincial organizations that are members of United Potato Growers of Canada agreed this information was too important to the industry to be discontinued. Each month, the provincial potato organizations develop the holdings and submit them to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for publication on its InfoHort website. The December 1 holdings were recently released, and they are further proof of the tight potato supply situation within Canada in 2011/12.

Total Canadian holdings on December 1 were down by over 5.5 million cwt from a year ago.  In Eastern Canada (including Ontario), the shortfall is even more severe, with December 1 holdings a staggering 7.2 million cwt below last year’s total. Disappearance has been strong this season due to good fresh sales, efforts by processors to use as much distressed product as possible, and unfortunately, storage losses. In Western Canada, the return to more normal crops in Alberta and British Columbia has offset the reductions in Manitoba. Open purchases for processing have occurred in every area, and competition for open potatoes will likely remain strong between fresh sales and processing needs for the balance of the season.

Alberta

By Edzo Kok, Executive Director, Potato Growers of Alberta

The 2011 crop is storing well as our focus turns to planning for 2012. Seed availability for the main french fry processing crop will be a hot topic in the coming months. While the availability of seed never seems to have an impact on final planting numbers, the source and quality of that seed to meet contract demands needs to remain a high priority. After land selection, seed is the second most important factor affecting the outcome of the crop. Successful growers have long realized there is no such thing as bargain seed. Quality seed ensures the crop has the opportunity to be extremely profitable from the start, while seed that is not 100 per cent eliminates that opportunity right out of the gate.

Alberta has a long-standing reputation for the quality of its seed. The isolation of growing areas and ideal climate ensure common pests and diseases do not enter the supply chain. Seed growers diligently monitor and manage their seed crops to ensure health and vigour is sustained through the generations. From test-tube plantlets in the seed repository in Edmonton to the fields five years later, growers can be confident that the Alberta seed they are planting will give them the very best chance of a bumper crop.

Don’t miss the United Potato Partners seminar at the Coast Hotel in Lethbridge, Alta., on February 2, 2011.

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