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We’re All In It Together

Hello, Potato Producers! I’m so happy to be at Spud Smart’s helm once again, and to be working with you, Canada’s potato industry stakeholders. In many provinces, this past growing season has been challenging, with prevailing hot, dry conditions for some and rains coming too late for others.

Despite these challenging conditions, the September estimate for the average yield of this year’s crop is around 302 hundredweight per acre, which is close to the current five-year average (Market News, page 18), due to timely end-of-season precipitation in some regions. Meanwhile, the fall U.S. potato crop appears to be smaller than last year’s, according to recent estimates.

However, according to Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada, significant reductions in yield and overall production due to hot, dry conditions in major European potato-producing countries could shape things to come in the near future.

“Later in the marketing season we will see reduced competition, reduced pressure from supply coming from that area — it just won’t be there,” he says. While Canadian producers likely won’t notice the effects of reduced competition until late winter or early spring, MacIsaac says some Canadian produce retailers are already receiving requests for business they’ve not had in the past.

Furthermore, the tight supply situation in Europe is having an immediate effect on the market. “The price is moving up in Europe. That’s quite a change from previous years. That tells us supply is not there,” says MacIsaac.

At press time, the Netherlands’ crop was said to be down 20 per cent and Belgium’s by at least 14 per cent. Germany’s crop was reported to have decreased by as much as 25 per cent and the United Kingdom by 16 per cent. It was also expected France’s production would be reduced.

MacIsaac believes all Canadian potato sectors — fresh, processing and seed — will eventually be affected by the reduced European crop.

For example, there will be less competition from the Netherlands for a piece of the global seed potato market as well as fresh potato exports to the Caribbean.

Belgium is a big player in the processed potato market, and a 14 per cent production loss may mean big changes for the export market.

“Some of Belgium’s producers are saying it’s their lowest yielding crop they’ve ever produced. That will be one of the biggest effects on Canada — the parts of North America that export frozen French fries often see competition from Belgium, and they will not have that product to compete with this year,” says MacIsaac.

Although Belgium did receive some end-of-season precipitation, it was too late, resulting in yield and quality reductions.

A 25 per cent reduction of Germany’s potato crop could also mean shifts in the dehydrated market. Overall, MacIsaac indicates there’s going to be a very tight scenario with dehydrated product.

“Germany has large acreage, and a big part of their acreage is for dehydration. Dehydrated product will be in short supply this year, not only from Europe, but also in the United States — they’re used to buying off-grade potatoes from the fresh, so they’ve contracted less,” MacIsaac says.

Still to be determined at time of writing is what issues the dry conditions will cause, such as clods, once harvesting begins in Europe.

And with less volume moving into the market, prices will likely increase. “Less supply means we’ll all fit into the picture better,” says MacIsaac.

Having been through a drought himself, MacIsaac, like other Canadian potato producers, can appreciate the challenges the European growers are up against.

“We’re all in the same boat together in the world — and we’re in the business of producing potatoes for a global market.”

Spud Smart is currently creating its editorial line-up. What topics would you like our team to explore? Please send your story ideas to kbelanger@issuesink.com.

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