Canada: Prairie Provinces' Yield Down

Published online: Sep 10, 2018 Articles
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Source: The Western Producer

The potato acreage may have increased this year in western Canada, but it doesn’t look like it will be the same story for yields.

“I think overall it’s too early to tell because we haven’t started the main harvest, but we are not expecting as big of yield as the last couple of years,” said Dan Sawatzky, manager of Keystone Potato Producers Association.

Manitoba producers planted 64,100 acres of potatoes this year, up about 1,200 acres from the previous year, according to Statistics Canada. Alberta producers planted 55,410 acres, up about 1,800 acres from 2017. Behind Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and Alberta are the top potato producing provinces.

Simplot is currently working on an expansion of its Portage la Prairie, Man. plant. The expansion is scheduled to come online in December, 2019. Cavendish Farms is constructing a new plant in Lethbridge, Alta. which will come online in fall 2019.

Alberta acreage increased substantially also due to their seed potatoes. Potatoes grown in northern Alberta are grown for seed and due to the new processing capacity coming online next year acreage increased.

“We sell a fair amount of seed to Manitoba. Our growers are just ramping up (production of) the seed a couple of years before it’s needed,” said Terence Hochstein, executive director of Potato Growers of Alberta, adding Alberta growers also sell a lot of potato seed to the United States, where the market has been growing year over year.

However due to the hot, dry weather Western Canada experienced during the summer, this year that won’t be the case.

“(It’s) early as far as really knowing what we might end up with here. The crop might surprise us. But at this point because the set is down I’m expecting the crop will be a little bit lighter than last year,” Sawatzky said.

While potato crops grown for processing in Manitoba and southern Alberta are irrigated, the hot weather still did affect them. According to Swatzky, when it gets too hot outside the potato plant will “shut down” meaning it will stop growing.

“We’ve had a little bit of heat runners. So that means the plants are dropping some tubers and pushing heat runners out. And little tubers attach to those heat runners which detract from yield,” he said.

“(So far the potatoes are looking) very good (in Alberta). (I) have no yield numbers because we’re too early in. But I’m going to say at this point in time we’re probably going to have an average crop,” Hochstein said.

Both Manitoba and Alberta producers are currently in the direct harvest portion of the potato harvest. This means the potatoes are dug up and then taken directly to the plants for processing. The main harvest, which is where the potatoes are stored, won’t start until approximately the middle of September in Manitoba, while in Alberta it should start the second week of September.

“The early crop for the most part (in Manitoba) is coming off as an average, pretty good quality, decent size,” Sawatzky said.

Harvest should wrap up by the start of October in both provinces.