Rain Keeps Canadian Growers on Edge

Published online: Sep 30, 2019 Articles Robert Arnason
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Source: Western Producer

Manitoba potato growers are hoping the 2019 harvest isn’t a repeat of 2018.

Harvest has been delayed in many areas after 2 to 5 inches of rain has fallen since Sept. 20.

Ideally, growers like to finish digging potatoes by the first week of October. That’s unlikely to happen this year because more rain is forecast for the final days of September.

“Since the weekend rain (Sept. 20-22), it’s been quite a challenge for growers,” said Dan Sawatzky, Keystone Potato Producers Association general manager.

Sawatzky estimated that 40 percent of Manitoba’s potato crop was out of the ground as of Sept. 26.

The potato harvest is behind schedule because of the rain and wet fields, as producers have “struggled to get back to back digging days,” Sawatzky added.

A week or two of suitable weather could turn the situation around, but if conditions deteriorate, things could become similar to the fall of 2018.

Last year, the weather was wet and cold for the last 10 days of September and much of October. Potato growers didn’t have enough time to dig up the entire crop. Below normal temperatures froze the soil the second week of October, making it nearly impossible to harvest potatoes. Of 64,000 acres that were planted in 2018, about eight percent of the crop was not harvested.

The unharvested crop caused a potato shortfall in Manitoba. French fry processing plants, operated by Simplot and McCain Foods, were forced to bring in potatoes from Alberta and Idaho to keep plants running at full capacity.

Simplot contracted more production of processing potatoes in Manitoba this spring and the crop was looking promising, before the September rains hit.

“It (is) actually a strong crop. If we could get them up, we would have a good year,” Sawatzky said. “There is a good yield out there.”

Over the last three to four years, potato yields in Manitoba have averaged around 350 hundredweight per acre. So, a strong crop would be closer to 375 cwt. per acre.

In Alberta, potato producers are having a better harvest than Manitoba.

Growers are about 75 percent complete and need another week to dig up the remaining spuds, said Terence Hochstein, Potato Growers of Alberta executive director.

So far, yields are around the five year average, which is 390 cwt. per acre in Alberta.

Weather may push the Alberta harvest well into October, as snow and rain is forecast for Sept. 28-30.

Growers in Alberta and Manitoba need to produce more potatoes this year because processing companies have expanded or built new plants.

The new Cavendish Farms plant in Lethbridge, Alberta has been operational since August. In Manitoba, Simplot is spending $460 million to double the size of its Portage la Prairie plant. The expanded facility is scheduled to open in late January.