Potato Supplies Look Tight In North America

Published online: Sep 16, 2022 Articles Robert Arnason, producer.com
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The potato harvest is underway in Canada and yields could be decent in 2022, but some in the industry are concerned about a shortfall of potatoes in Canada and the U.S.

Remaining stocks from last year’s crop are minimal, at best, and yields this fall could be average or below average in multiple states and provinces.

“Overall, I think everybody is predicting a tight market,” Victoria Stamper, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada, said.

Potato acreage in Canada is estimated at 385,000, almost identical to acres from 2021. Alberta saw a 5.6 percent increase in acres, jumping to 72,300, but acres on Prince Edward Island declined by 6.4 percent.

In the U.S., total acreage dropped to 910,000 – down 3.5 percent from the previous year.

Idaho, which dominates potato production in America, saw acres sink by 7.9 percent.

In the past, additional production in Idaho has been shipped to french fry plants in Manitoba and other parts of North America to cover shortfalls.

That may not happen in 2022.

“They’re talking about average yields in Idaho,” said Stamper, who took over as general manager this spring from Kevin MacIsaac, who retired after 11 years of service.

“They (Idaho) don’t have the flex potatoes that they usually have … Sometimes the processors will dip into that (supply) if necessary.”

Idaho has also been coping with a potato shortage this summer, a hangover from poor yields in 2021.

In Alberta, which normally produces the highest yields in Canada, growers are looking at an average crop in 2022. Potatoes got off to a slow start because of cooler weather. That was followed by extreme heat in the middle of the growing season.

“Right now, I don’t see anything better than average,” said Terence Hochstein, Potato Growers of Alberta executive director. “It will depend on how the fall goes. If we get a long and open fall and some good weather, maybe we’ll touch a bit better than (average).”

Average yields for processing potatoes, used to make french fries, hash browns and other products, are around 400 hundredweight per acre in Alberta.

The province’s potato sector needs a decent crop this fall because stocks are next to nothing in Alberta.

Yields in 2021 were below average and demand was up. Cavendish Farms opened a new and larger processing plant in Lethbridge a couple of years ago, increasing regional demand for spuds.

“Not only did we supply our processors here, we sent a pile (of spuds) to Manitoba … There was huge demand,” Hochstein said.

The processing plants in southern Alberta shut down for a week to 10 days this summer for maintenance because they didn’t have sufficient potatoes to make into fries. They normally shut down in fall.

“My processors (in Alberta), by mid-July they were dry. They were empty,” Hochstein said.

French fry plants in Manitoba, operated by Simplot and McCain’s, might also have a smaller than expected supply of spuds in 2022.

The province was extremely wet and cold in spring, which delayed potato seeding and crop emergence. The harvest is just beginning in Manitoba, but potato yields are “somewhat less than expected due to early season excess moisture stress,” said the Manitoba crop report for Sept. 6.

In P.E.I., the growing season has been favourable and yields should be solid, but the province has fewer acres than in previous years so there may not be an abundance of potatoes to supply other parts of North America.

Potato supplies may look tight, at the moment, but it’s too early for panic. With favourable weather in September, yields could climb and the supply situation may improve in Alberta, Manitoba and elsewhere.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com