Wet conditions in the west are the dark spot on an otherwise good growing season for potatoes across Canada.

While the Maritimes and Eastern Canada had almost ideal potato planting and growing conditions, their western counterparts have not. Mainly wet conditions throughout Manitoba and British Columbia had growers slogging through their fields, while parts of Alberta were planting into parched soils.

Potato field on D&C Vander Zaag Farms
A potato field on D&C Vander Zaag Farms being watered by irrigation in the Melancthon region of Ontario. Photo: Eugenia Banks

“Everybody else is reporting really good conditions. P.E.I.’s been ideal. Ontario has been really good. Even Alberta finally got some rain that was welcome after close to four years without any significant downfall. So, they started out with a very dry season but have gotten some much needed precipitation. And Quebec as well is feeling good about the crop,” Victoria Stamper, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada (UPGC), says in a phone interview. She adds most provinces did see a slight delay in their planting start dates though.

Growers in B.C. were still trying to plant their late season crops as of mid-June, but wet weather has been holding back progress. Stamper says the season started out reasonably well in the western province with the early season Warba’s crop doing well and already available for purchase in stores.

Manitoba meanwhile hasn’t been able to catch a break. The rain started early and delayed planting from the onset. Dan Sawatzky, general manager of the Keystone Potato Producers Association, says growers in Manitoba started planting in mid-May — usually planting would start at around the end of April. He notes as of mid-June there are still a few growers who aren’t finished yet.

Repeated Colorado lows brought late season snowfall in April and further rain into May across the province. Following the Colorado lows the rain kept on falling, while colder conditions held back fields from drying out between rainfalls.

“It just kept delaying the planting. The land would almost get dry enough, and then they’d get another rain pretty well every weekend. So that delayed planting, even the ground that is often ready early earlier on it was even delayed somewhat,” Sawatzky explains in a phone interview.

Usually by mid-June the Manitoba crop would be fully emerged across the province, but this year it only sits at just below 50 per cent. Sawatzky notes the rain did cause emergence to come faster this year once the seed was in the ground

“The fields are full of water. And then sometimes, (growers) would get on and that next weekend there’d be big rains again, and puddles of water on those fields that had been planted. So that’s where some of the seed rot issues will be coming in,” he says. “The full extent of the damage — the seed rot is still to be determined.”

The one bright spot of the ongoing rain has been that the province’s irrigation reservoirs have been replenished. Last year the province suffered from a drought which caused the reservoirs to run out of water early in the growing season.

Potato field on D&C Vander Zaag Farm
A potato field on D&C Vander Zaag Farms being watered by irrigation in the Melancthon region of Ontario. Photo: Eugenia Banks

Sawatzky expects Manitoba acreage to be similar to last year. Some growers planted extra acres where they could offset any flooded-out fields. Across the rest of the country, Stamper has generally heard acreage is flat this year. Acreage is expected to be slightly down in Quebec and Prince Edward Island, while Alberta is seeing an increase.

“Movement of P.E.I. seed is currently restricted by the CFIA. However Alberta growers are predicting increased acreage for seed potatoes,” she explains. “They know there’s a really good, strong demand domestically and in the U.S. including for processing, so overall acreage will be on the rise in this province.”

Growth is looking good in potato fields as of mid-June, Stamper says. There is concern about what the rest of the growing season will bring weather-wise, but Stamper says the industry is overall optimistic.

Header photo — A potato field at Kroeker Farms in Manitoba. Photo: Kroeker Farms

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Ashley Robinson was raised on a mixed cattle and grain farm in southwestern Manitoba. She attended the University of Regina where she studied journalism. Following university, she has spent the better part of the past decade writing about agriculture in publications across Canada and internationally. Robinson’s agriculture writing has covered topics from rural issues to commodity markets. Since joining Seed World Group her work has focused on covering all aspects of the Canadian potato industry from planting to farm management, and agriculture in Alberta focusing on how the seed industry connects to farmer’s daily lives.