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Statistics Canada’s 2011 potato production estimates, released mid-November, show a decrease of 4 per cent in production from 2010 levels, largely due to lower yields and unharvested acres. AAFC’s December 1 InfoHort holdings also testify to a tight supply situation across the country. British Columbia, which lost 46 per cent of its acreage due to excessive rain in 2010, returned to more normal harvest conditions and saw a 68 per cent increase in production in 2011. Alberta’s production increased 17 per cent, and Saskatchewan’s yield improved by 10 per cent relative to 2010. However, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba experienced reductions in production. “In terms of where the supply is in Canada, the prices should definitely be higher than what they are. The market is taking a long time to adjust to the supply situation. It will adjust, but that will happen later in the season,” says Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the UPGC.

“We’re really dependent on what happens in the processing sector. That industry is using a lot of potatoes these days, and that will reduce the amount of potatoes available for fresh purchases,” says MacIsaac. “There will be limits on supply, we would estimate in June, to the point that not all customers will be able to receive the supply that they need. Some customers will have enough to get to the end of the season, some will not.”

“Shipments are up about eight per cent, above average for this time. It’s not exports, but certainly among the other sectors, shipments are growing from potatoes originally destined for table to processing. Fresh sales have been good—I think we’re seeing a turnaround for people marketing fresh potatoes,” says MacIsaac.

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The Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service also reported fall harvest yields were 3.7 per cent below long-term trend yields. According to the UPGA Supply and Demand Committee, “the reduction in fall yields and active purchasing behaviour by processors will reduce fresh shipments in the United States by about one per cent, which is roughly one million hundredweight less than the 2010-11 marketing year.”

Yields are estimated at 14 million hundredweight less than anticipated when potatoes were planted in the spring of 2011, which means growers may have strength in pricing. But as growers plan for 2012, the UPGA advises them to remember that a return to trend line yields will produce an extra 20 hundredweight per acre, on average.