National potato harvest declines

Dry summers in Ontario, Quebec and Maritime cut into yield

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Glacier FarmMedia – Canadian potato production will decline this year, possibly by six per cent or more.

A hot and dry summer, especially in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, cut into potato yields across the country.

Why it matters: Potatoes are a high value crop for the areas across the country where they are produced.

Last year, Canadian farmers produced 106.4 million hundredweight of potatoes. The 2020 crop could be around 100 million cwt.

“The biggest decrease in yields will be in Eastern Canada…. Also, Western Canada yields are not what they (expected),” said Kevin MacIsaac, United Potato Growers of Canada general manager.

“We’re estimating, as of today, (production) would be off by six million cwt…. It’s not a real crisis situation, but it’s a tightening of supply.”

Most of the potato crop in Canada is harvested, except for some parts of Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island. Harvested acreage is higher this year, which will help offset the yield losses.

In 2019, about 21,000 acres of potatoes were not harvested, mostly in Manitoba and Alberta, because of wet weather and a hard frost, which froze the soil in October.

Yields are down substantially in P.E.I. and New Brunswick because growers don’t have irrigation systems. In late August, CTV News reported that some parts of P.E.I. received 15 per cent of normal rainfall this summer.

P.E.I. potato yields may drop by 15 to 25 per cent.

“That could reduce (P.E.I.) production by five million cwt. and make it one of the lowest crops since back in 2001,” United Potato Growers said in a September report.

Official numbers haven’t been calculated in Manitoba, but yields may drop by 15 per cent, said Dan Sawatzky, Keystone Potato Producers Association general manager.

The crop was planted later than normal, there was a hot spell during flowering and a second heat wave in late August. All those factors cut into production.

Canadian production may be off, but demand for fresh potatoes, french fries and chips is solid.

North Americans are eating more potatoes at home and consuming a massive amount of chips.

“The chip side has been amazing. Chip sales have increased right from March and increased all the way through the season. People just continue to eat more potato chips,” MacIsaac said.

French fry sales collapsed in the spring when COVID-19 forced the shutdown of thousands of restaurants. Consumption has since rebounded, and processing plants are operating close to normal capacity.

“A lot of the fryers would say they’re back to 85 or 95 per cent of where they would be this time last year,” MacIsaac said.

“But we’re still missing the big events that use a lot of french fries — hockey games, ball games, conventions and those kinds of things.”

This article was originally published at The Western Producer.

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