Canada: Alberta Challenging P.E.I for Potato Crown

Better yields in West push harvest totals close to Eastern region that suffered rainy, chilly fall

Published online: Dec 19, 2018 Articles
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Source: CBC News 

Alberta potato growers are challenging Prince Edward Island growers for the title as the country's top spud producer. The western province has nearly tied the eastern one for the largest potato harvest in Canada for the 2018 season.

Alberta produced 22.3 billion pounds of potatoes in 2018, while P.E.I. harvested 22.6 billion pounds. That's 21.5 percent of the Canadian harvest for Alberta and 21.8 percent for P.E.I., new data from Statistics Canada shows.

The tight race for the potato title comes as no surprise to farmer Harold Perry in Chin, Alberta. He works just east of the McCain's french fry plant in Coaldale.

"The way I look at it, for the Alberta economy, instead of trying to do one thing 100 percent better, you do 100 things 1 percent better," Perry says. "I think potatoes are falling in that category right now."

Part of Alberta's success can be attributed to a difficult season for P.E.I. producers. Alberta growers planted fewer acres with potatoes than P.E.I. growers, but they were able to harvest 97 percent of their crop, pushing the yield up, Statistics Canada found through its survey of Canadian farming organizations.

The Island, however, was hit with wet, cold weather, resulting in 8.3 percent of seeded harvest being left in the ground to freeze. The situation was so bad, farmers helped each other race the weather to dig up as many spuds as they could.

Manitoba, also a top potato producer, has reduced production this year, with 7.9 percent of seeded area left unharvested.

After struggling to get all their potatoes out of the ground this fall, it's expected many P.E.I. potato farmers will be making crop insurance claims. (Submitted by Bryan Maynard)

The dry, arid climate of southern Alberta makes for a good french fry potato, Perry said. The warm days and cool evenings make for a starchier tuber, which helps with processing to make chips or fries. Proof of that, he said, is in the Cavendish Farms plant set to open next year in Lethbridge.

Cavendish, owned by J.D. Irving Ltd., has potato processing plants in the potato-producing provinces of P.E.I. and New Brunswick, among others.

Statistics Canada collects potato harvest yield information from industry associations in each province. This year, the consultations concluded at the end of November.