Business & Policy

The impact of the difficult harvest on the industry will be felt across all sectors - seed, table stock and processing. Crop stress, reduced yields and unharvested acres will all contribute to a national decline in potato production.
The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) recently held an AgriWorkforce Roundtable to discuss challenges and possible solutions to address the critical agricultural labour shortage in Canada.
  Covered Bridge Potato Chips has purchased new equipment and expanded its Hartland-area manufacturing facility with $867,000 in federal and provincial funding. Government officials and company president Ryan Albright did not respond to a request from CBC News for details about when the funding was provided. The announcement comes less than eight months after a strike and boycott at the plant ended with the signing of a new contract that included a pay increase for workers and more money for boot and clothing allowances. The contract dispute was settled after a New Brunswick judge rejected an application by Albright to dismantle the union. The nearly 836-square metre (9,000-square foot) expansion is expected to improve the company's efficiencies and optimize operating space to increase production of its old-fashioned kettle chips, which are made from dark russet potatoes, harvested from the Albright family's local farm. | READ MORE  
Feb. 26, 2016, Prince Edward Island – Two Island farmers convicted of planting potatoes on a slope that was too steep were granted a partial victory from the P.E.I. Court of Appeal, writes CBC News. | READ MORE
For the past nine years, veteran automotive journalists have donated their time to act as judges in the only annual North American truck competition that tests pickup and van models head to head – while hauling payload and also towing.   The Canadian Truck King Challenge started in 2006, and each year these writers return because they believe in this straightforward approach to testing and they know their readers want the results it creates. I started it (and continue to do it) for the same reason – that, and my belief that after 40 years of putting trucks to work I know what’s important to Canadians. Now, that’s a long list of qualifications, but in a nutshell it’s the concept that a truck can be pretty, but that alone is just not enough. It had also better do its job – and do it well. This year, nine judges travelled from Quebec, Saskatchewan and across Ontario to the Kawartha Lakes Region where we test the trucks each year.  All the entries are delivered to my 70-acre IronWood test site days before the judges arrive so we can prepare them for hauling and towing. In the meantime they are all outfitted with digital data collectors. These gadgets plug into the USB readers on each vehicle and transmit fuel consumption data to a company in Kitchener, Ont. (MyCarma) that records, compiles and translates those readings into fuel economy results that span the almost 4,000 test kilometers we accumulate over two long days.   These results are as real world as it gets. The numbers are broken into empty runs, loaded results and even consumption while towing. Each segment is measured during test loops with the trucks being driven by five judges – one after the other. That’s five different driving styles, acceleration, braking and idling (we don’t shut the engines down during seat changes).   The Head River test loop itself is also a combination of road surfaces and speed limits. At 17-kilometres long it runs on gravel, secondary paved road and highway. Speed limits vary from 50 to 80 km/h and the road climbs and drops off an escarpment-like ridgeline several times; plus it crosses the Head River twice at its lowest elevation. The off-road part of our testing is done on my own course at IronWood. Vans are not tested on the off-road course, though it’s noteworthy that the Mercedes Sprinter was equipped with a four-wheel drive system this year. This is the third year that we have used the data collection system and released the final fuel consumption report that MyCarma prepares for the Truck King Challenge. It’s become one of our most anticipated results. But how do we decide what to test? Well as anyone who’s bought a truck knows, the manufacturers never sleep, bringing something different to market every year. As the challenge looks to follow market trends, what and how we test must change each year too and the 2016 model year proved no different. We had a field of 14 contenders at IronWood this year covering four categories. They were as follows: Full-size half-ton pickup truck Ford F-150, Platinum, 3.5L, V6 EcoBoost, gas, 6-speed Auto Ford F-150, XLT, 2.7L, V6 EcoBoost, gas, 6-speed Auto Chevrolet Silverado, High Country, 6.2L, V8, gas, 8-speed Auto Ram 1500, Laramie, 3L EcoDiesel, V6, diesel, 8-speed Auto Mid-size pickup truck Toyota Tacoma, TRD Off-Road, 3.5L V6, gas, 6-speed Auto GMC Canyon, SLT, 2.8L Duramax, I-4 diesel, 6-speed Auto Chevrolet Colorado, Z71, 3.6L V6, gas, 6-speed Auto Full-size commercial vans Ford Transit 250, 3.2L Power Stroke I-5 diesel, 6-speed Auto Mercedes Sprinter 2.0L BLUE-Tec I-4 diesel, 2X4 Mercedes Sprinter 3.0L BLUE-Tec V6 diesel, 4X4 Ram ProMaster 1500, 3.0L I-4 diesel, 6-speed Auto/Manual Mid-size commercial vans Ram ProMaster City, SLT, 2.4L Tigershark I-4 gas, 9-speed Auto Nissan NV200, 2.0L I-4, gas, Xtronic CVT Auto Mercedes Metris, 2.0L I-4, gas, 7-speed Auto These vehicles are each all-new – or have had significant changes made to them. However, this year, the Truck King Challenge decided to try something else new by offering a returning champion category. This idea had been growing for a while and had everything to do with the engineering cycles that each manufacturer follows. Simply put, trucks are not significantly updated each year and to date we have only included “new” iron in each year’s competition. However, we started to think that just because a truck is in the second or third year of its current generational life shouldn’t make it non-competitive. Certainly if you watch the builders’ ads it doesn’t!   So, this spring we decided that for the first time the immediate previous year’s winner (in each category) would be offered the chance to send its current truck back to IronWood to compete against what’s new on the market.   This year the invitation was sent to the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, Ford Transit 250 and Nissan NV200 – all previous winners that accepted the offer to return and fight for their crowns. They, along with the new vehicles, took the tests over two days with the judges evaluating everything from towing feel to interior features. The judges score each vehicle in 20 different categories; these scores are then averaged across the field of judges and converted to a score out of 100. Finally the “as tested” price of each vehicle is also weighted against the average (adding or subtracting points) for the final outcome. And this year’s segment winners are... Full-Size Half-Ton Pickup Truck – Ram 1500 EcoDiesel – 82.97 per cent Mid-Size Pickup Truck – GMC Canyon Duramax – 76.30 per cent Full-Size Commercial Van – Ford Transit 250 – 73.90 per cent Mid-Size Commercial Van – Mercedes Metris – 75.69 per cent The overall top scoring 2016 Canadian Truck King Challenge winner is the Ram 1500, Laramie, 3L EcoDiesel, V6 diesel, 8-speed Auto. Congratulations to all the winners and to the two repeating champions – the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel and the Ford Transit 250.
Jan. 25, 2016, Guelph, Ont. – Registration is now open for the 2016 Ontario Potato Conference, to be held March 1 at the Delta Hotel and Conference Centre in Guelph.    The deadline for the early bird registration at the reduced fee of $50 is Feb. 25. Lunch, coffee breaks and parking are included in the registration fee. The agenda and registration information can be found here.   
A shortage of potatoes across Europe is pushing up the cost of crisps and chips for British shoppers.
Some businesses that need a steady supply of potatoes — like fresh-cut fry shacks — are having problems sourcing their key ingredient.
A P.E.I. farmer is taking stunning images of his fields to show people where their food comes from — from a whole new aerial angle. CBC News reports. | READ MORE
May 25, 2016, Prince Edward Island – A new study linking potatoes and increased risk of high blood pressure is being viewed with caution by the P.E.I. potato board and a local nutritional scientist. | READ MORE
Dec. 1, 2015, New Glasgow, N.S. – Pictou County RCMP are investigating after a nail was found in a 20-pound bag of Country Magic white potatoes bought in a grocery store, reports CBC News. | READ MORE
Sept. 24, 2015, Halifax – Halifax Police are investigating a possible case of food tampering after a nail was found in a potato sold at a grocery store. Global News reports. | READ MORE
A UPEI research project aimed at making potato farming more efficient has received funding from the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. | READ MORE
EU-funded scientists have discovered genetic markers that could allow potatoes to be selected for their ability to be stored at low temperatures, keeping them fresh and avoiding the use of anti-sprouting chemicals.
Leading U.K. agronomy specialists, Levity CropScience, based at Myerscough College in Bilsborrow, recently unveiled their industry changing research at the British Potato exhibition in Harrogate.Based on independent field trials, from 2015 to 2017, Levity has demonstrated that their product, Potato Lono, increases potato yields by up to $1,000 per hectare. Trials were held in England, Ireland, Netherlands, and France.Potato Lono improves photosynthesis, and helps crops increase carbon efficiency during times of stress, improving tuber initiation and bulking. This can result in increased tuber numbers, when applied during tuber initiation, with trials showing increases of over 60,000 extra tubers per hectare across various potato varieties."We're excited to have revealed this groundbreaking data" said David Marks, Joint MD, Levity CropScience. "Our hard work has paid off and now growers around the world will be able to benefit from this research and our innovative application of this knowledge into unrivalled, pioneering fertilizer products."Anne Weston, Joint MD, Levity CropScience added: "Over the next few weeks, we will be attending several exhibitions to meet farmers and their advisers to highlight and discuss our results, including the fantastic benefits Levity CropScience's products offer the farming and horticultural industries throughout the world. It is another example of how our innovative Lancashire company is driving research into increasing crop yields throughout the world, which will ultimately benefit both the environment and the local population."
Farmers know the importance of keeping the land, water and air healthy to sustain their farms from one generation to the next. They also know that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand.The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Member of Parliament for Delta and Minister of Public Services and Procurement, recently announced a $1.8 million investment with the University of British Columbia to determine carbon sequestration and GHG emissions, and develop beneficial management practices (BMPs) for increasing the efficiency of fertilizer use in blueberry, potato and forage crops.This project with the University of British Columbia is one of 20 new research projects supported by the $27 million Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program (AGGP), a partnership with universities and conservation groups across Canada. The program supports research into greenhouse gas mitigation practices and technologies that can be adopted on the farm."This project will provide new science-based knowledge on net GHG emissions by accurately measuring GHG emissions and developing mitigation technologies for blueberry, potato and forage crops in the Lower Fraser Valley. The research team will use state-of-the-art instrumentation and automated measurement techniques to quantify annual GHG emissions. While the specific research objectives are targeted to fill regionally identified gaps in knowledge, they will be applicable more broadly to similar agricultural production systems across Canada and Global Research Alliance member countries," said Dr. Rickey Yada, Dean, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, UBC.
Some new high tech tools will soon give farmers a way to keep weeds down, cut costs and herbicide use dramatically and work around weed resistance to herbicides.In collaboration with a University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) engineer, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada weed specialist Andrew McKenzie-Gopsill is turning to sensors, cameras and computer algorithms to detect the exact location of weeds in a field.The digital technology will create a data base of images to identify weeds, essentially pinpointing only the areas where herbicide is required.The technique could cut down herbicide use to a fraction of what it is now and could significantly reduce operating costs for growers.Some hurdles remain to smooth out the sensor imaging, but the goal is to create field data that can be fed into software that farmers can purchase for use on their sprayers.Initial equipment costs of around $20,000 could be recouped over a couple of years with the savings from reduced herbicide purchases.Much like antibiotic resistance in human medicine, the number of weeds that are resistant to commonly used herbicides is on the increase.Herbicides that were once worked well now offer limited control and the overuse of herbicides is a major factor in weed resistance to sprays.McKenzie-Gopsill is now doing experiments to find out how resistant various commons weeds on PEI are to herbicides.His research shows there is weed resistance to metribuzin, the active ingredient in the #1 herbicide used by potato growers.Weeds collected from tests at AAFC Harrington Research Farm tolerated very high rates of metribuzin. Some fields where metribuzin was applied showed no weed control. This research has the potential to address this challenge while helping growers to continue to provide Canadians with healthy, high-quality food.
Chinese scientists will attempt to grow potatoes on the moon as part of a forthcoming lunar mission.
Potatoes are eating up a growing slice of Alberta's agriculture sector. The province has about 21,500 hectares of farmland dedicated to potatoes and produced just over two billion pounds of spuds last year, putting the province third in the country behind Prince Edward Island (36,000 hectares) and Manitoba (27,235 hectares). With Cavendish Farms slated to open a new Lethbridge processing plant in 2019 — adding another 3,800 hectares — the potato industry is expecting another bump in growth in the coming years. | READ MORE
A sixth-generation farmer from Malden, N.B. has found a market for potatoes too small to sell to grocery stores.Blue Roof Distillers is the first Canadian farm-to-bottle distillery making vodka from potatoes.The family used to donate the tiny taters from its 350-acre farm to local cattle farmers for feed or sell them to a dehydration plant that would turn them into potato flakes.But an oversupply of small potatoes meant the dehydration plant's prices were low, so the family needed a new business venture, says Devon Strang. For the full story, click here. 
The PEI Potato Industry has released a 30 second commercial highlighting the industry. The farmers from the Island are proud of what they do and want to showcase the positive work.The project was filmed over the summer and early fall on different farms and field locations all over Prince Edward Island. It was directed and produced by Furrow Creative in Charlottetown PEI. The video features Island potato farmers and their families doing what they do best – growing the best quality potatoes in the world."We have so much to be proud of and thankful for in our potato industry here on PEI. It's the backbone of our economy, it's a major part of our culture and PEI wouldn't be the same without it." says Rodney Dingwell, Chairman of the PEI Potato Board.The video will air primarily on local television with a digital campaign airing in the Ontario and Atlantic Canadian markets.So what does it take to grow a quality potato? For the PEI Potato industry, it takes an Island! For more information, visit:
P.E.I. potatoes fetched good prices in 2016, continuing a trend that stretches back to 2004. The strong performance for Island spuds was shown in the farm product prices indexed released by Statistics Canada. | READ MORE
  While North American farmers are in the process of wrapping up a fourth-straight bumper harvest, according to the BMO 2016 North American Agriculture Report, foreign exchange developments have yielded very different experiences for producers in Canada and the United States. "In the United States, the lofty greenback, which has gained 20 per cent on a trade-weighted basis since the start of 2014, has been yet another bearish factor for crop prices and revenue," said Aaron Goertzen, Senior Economist, BMO Capital Markets. "Canadian producers, in contrast, have benefitted from a drop in the loonie, which is down 17 per cent against the U.S. dollar since the start of 2014 and has provided a like-sized lift to crop prices north of the border." Mr. Goertzen added that as a result of the weaker loonie, domestic crop prices in Canada are 18 per cent below all-time highs – compared to nearly 30 per cent in the United States – and have risen five per cent from their recent low in mid-2014. The lower loonie has been a particularly fortunate development given the country's mediocre crop yields over the past few years. Canadian Outlook In Canada, composite crop yields, which consist of corn, soybeans, wheat and canola, picked up modestly on last year's subpar result. However, they remained on-trend overall as a near-record crop of canola on the prairies was offset by a decrease in corn and soybean yields in Ontario. "Canadian producers have undoubtedly been supported by the weaker loonie," said Adam Vervoort, Head of Agriculture Banking, BMO Financial Group. "This means now, with extra capital available, is an ideal time to invest in technology, which is driving the current string of bumper crops we've seen on a North American scale." He added, "Those producers who have adopted modern agricultural practices, particularly in the corn space, have grown trend crop yields substantially. There's still room for autonomous, satellite-informed equipment to be refined and used, as the innovation trend shows no sign of slowing down." Producers in Canada's Western regions, namely Alberta and Saskatchewan, have experienced a more difficult season impacted by weather challenges since October that have delayed their harvest timeline. However, the prairies remain on track for a near-record crop of canola. Mr. Vervoort affirmed that producers in the West could have potentially seen stronger results weather permitting, but have managed to still sustain a decent crop turnaround. "The harvest conditions have not been ideal, but we continue to work with farmers negatively impacted by adverse weather." While Canadian producers benefitted from a timely fall in the loonie that lifted crop prices north of the border, it also raised the cost of internationally-priced inputs like energy and fertilizer. Most producers face a wide variety of Canadian dollar-dominated expenses though, so margins have ultimately benefitted on balance. From mid-2014 to early this year, the weaker Canadian dollar also caused food prices to inflate four per cent yearly. Consumers have been somewhat relieved as a result of the partial bounce-back of the dollar in the latter half of the year and a decrease in livestock prices.  
Nov. 3, 2016, Alberta – The Government of Canada has secured market access for Alberta seed potatoes to Thailand.Effective immediately, Alberta becomes the third province to have an export agreement with Thailand, joining Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, both of which secured export agreements in 2009. Combined, these three provinces form about 76 per cent of Canada’s seed potato exports. Alberta’s seed potato exports to Thailand could be worth up to $2 million annually, according to industry experts, adding to the $5 million on average exported annually to that country. The increased access will advance the competitiveness of, and create new opportunities for, the seed potato sector.  
It will now be elementary for a P.E.I. raw potato preparation operation to inspect the inside of potatoes with new technology called the Sherlock Separator-2400.
Researchers from Ohio State University and the Italian National Agency for New Technologies have developed a "golden" potato with significantly increased levels of vitamins A and E. Findings from a new study were published recently in PLOS ONE in an article entitled "Potential of Golden Potatoes to Improve Vitamin A and Vitamin E Status in Developing Countries."The research team found that a serving of the yellow-orange lab-engineered potato has the potential to provide as much as 42 per cent of a child's recommended daily intake of vitamin A and 34 per cent of a child's recommended intake of vitamin E. For the full story, click here. 
In September, potato storage began in the Netherlands. Many crops, including potatoes, are harvested. These potatoes are then stored for several months. A new atomiser, specifically for sprout inhibitors during this 'storage period', has been designed.The atomiser, known as the Synofog, uses a new technique - electro-thermal atomisation. The advantage of this new piece of apparatus is that it does not have an open flame. This ensures its safe use with all kinds of sprout inhibitors. READ MORE
With more than two dozen companies in Pennsylvania manufacturing potato chips, it is no wonder that researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences have developed a novel approach to more efficiently convert potato waste into ethanol. This process may lead to reduced production costs for biofuel in the future and add extra value for chip makers.Using potato mash made from the peelings and potato residuals from a Pennsylvania food-processor, researchers triggered simultaneous saccharification – the process of breaking down the complex carbohydrate starch into simple sugars – and fermentation – the process in which sugars are converted to ethanol by yeasts or other microorganisms in bioreactors.The simultaneous nature of the process was innovative, according to researcher Ali Demirci, professor of agricultural and biological engineering. The addition to the bioreactor of mold and yeast – Aspergillus niger and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, respectively – catalyzed the conversion of potato waste to bioethanol.The bioreactor had plastic composite supports to encourage and enhance biofilm formation and to increase the microbial population.Biofilms are a natural way of immobilizing microbial cells on a solid support material. In a biofilm environment, microbial cells are abundant and more resistant to environmental stress causing higher productivities. In this application, these benefits were especially important because mold enzyme activity required higher temperature and the yeast had to tolerate this.Researchers evaluated the effects of temperature, pH and aeration rates in biofilm reactors, and the optimal conditions were found to be 95 degrees Fahrenheit and a pH of 5.8 with no aeration. After 72 hours, the researchers achieved the maximum ethanol concentration of 37.93 grams per liter. The yield was 0.41 grams or ethanol per gram of starch."These results are promising, because the co-culture biofilm reactor provided similar ethanol production – 37.93 grams per litre – compared to the conventional ethanol production – 37.05 grams per liter – which required pre-treatment with added commercial enzymes at a higher temperature," Demirci explained. "Therefore, eliminating the externally added enzyme and energy costs will certainly reduce the cost of bioethanol production."Researchers also evaluated biofilm formation of co-culture on the plastic composite supports using a scanning electron microscope, said researcher Gulten Izmirlioglu, a doctoral student in agricultural and biological engineering when the study was conducted. "Scanning electron microscope images revealed that when mold and yeast are allowed to form a biofilm, hyphae (filaments) of the mold provide surface area for the yeasts' attachment," she said. "That's a good thing."The research findings, which demonstrated that plastic composite supports can be used for simultaneous saccharification and fermentation processes in biofilm reactors with co-cultures when producing ethanol, were published in Fuel. Izmirlioglu believes the results are significant for industry."Overall, bioethanol production from starchy industrial wastes can be improved with application of biofilm reactors, while the production cost is reduced with integrations of the simultaneous saccharification and fermentation process and co-culturing," she said.More efficient bioethanol production is needed to meet the demand for renewable energy and reduce the negative environmental impacts of petroleum fuel, Demirci noted. To make ethanol production cost-competitive, inexpensive, and easily available, feedstocks such as potato mash are needed, as well as improved processing technologies with higher productivities."This research is of great interest to Keystone Potato Products in Hegins, Pennsylvania, a subsidiary of Sterman Masser Inc.," said Demirci. "The company is paying attention to this project, hoping this novel approach may help it add more value to its waste potato mash. Industrial food wastes are potentially a great substrate in production of value-added products to reduce the cost, while managing the waste economically and environmentally."Also contributing to the research was John Cantolina in the Microscopy and Cytometry Facility at the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Penn State.
Researchers say they’ve pinpointed individual spud plants infected with potato virus Y with 90 percent accuracy, using hyperspectral cameras mounted on drones.  Donna Delparte, an assistant professor of geosciences at Idaho State University, and graduate student Mike Griffel have successfully tested a “computer-learning” algorithm they developed to tease out PVY from spectral imaging “background noise,” such as field variability and unrelated crop stress. “Our premise was to look at all of these wavelengths of light the human eye can’t see and look for differences between healthy plants and plants infected with PVY,” Griffel said, adding their images had leaf-scale resolution. Griffel said the project detected disease well before potato crops reached the row-closure stage, far earlier than people can spot symptoms of PVY by scouting fields.  To develop their algorithm, they compiled crop data in fields over three seasons, ending in 2016. The researchers first analyzed fields from the ground with a high-tech camera capable of recording 100 bands of the light spectrum. After studying the images, they selected the 15 most useful bands for identifying PVY based on its unique light reflection. Delparte programmed more basic hyperspectral cameras mounted on drones to detect those bands while surveying the same potato fields from the air. | READ MORE  
So far in the project, the drone has collected imagery from about 50 potato fields in New Brunswick. Photo courtesy of Bernie Zebarth, AAFC. Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are becoming increasingly popular with crop growers as an easy way to take a look at their fields. Now, researchers are fine-tuning the use of imagery from drones as a more advanced tool for precision management of Canadian potato fields. This work with drone imagery is part of a major five-year project to boost potato yields. “About three years ago, Potatoes New Brunswick and McCain Foods Canada came to me and said they were having issues in terms of potato productivity in Eastern Canada,” says Bernie Zebarth, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre. “The data across North America show a slow but steady average increase over time in potato yields, going up about five hundredweight per acre per year. But in Eastern Canada, that is not happening – the crop insurance data for New Brunswick suggest our yields are either stagnant or perhaps even decreasing slightly over time. “That’s a serious concern for industry. For example, a lot of New Brunswick’s potato production is for French fries for export. To export, you have to be competitive. If you start losing yield, then you become less competitive. So they asked us to work with them to see what could be done about it.” The project aims to increase yields by addressing the variability in productivity within potato fields. “The project has three main objectives. First, can we develop ways of mapping the variability in plant growth and yield in potato fields? Second, for the areas of the fields that are not performing well, can we identify why? And third, can we overcome those yield limitations?” Zebarth says. “In Eastern Canada, precision agriculture is an exciting new area for us, and this is part of what we’re doing in the project,” he adds. So, they are trying out tools like drones and yield monitors to map in-field variability as a first step towards managing that variability through precision agriculture. According to Yves Leclerc, McCain’s director of agronomy for North America, managing in-field variability is key to improving yields and profitability for potato growers. “We need to understand profitability not only at the field level but also the subfield level, and manage fields at that level. It is no longer enough to manage a field based on the average conditions; we need to be more precise [to achieve a field’s full yield potential].” The project’s initial phase, in 2013 and 2014, took place in New Brunswick only. For 2015 to 2017, the research is also taking place in Prince Edward Island and Manitoba. For the first two years, Potatoes New Brunswick, McCain Foods Canada, AAFC and New Brunswick’s Enabling Agricultural Research and Innovation program funded the project. With the expanded project, two additional agencies have come on board: the PEI Potato Board and the Manitoba Horticulture Productivity Enhancement Centre Inc. The project’s lead agency is Potatoes New Brunswick. To try to remedy yield limitations, the project team is looking at a wide variety of practices such as compost applications, fumigation, fall cover crops, nurse crops, furrow de-compaction and, in Manitoba, variable rate irrigation. “We’re looking at everything from drones and drone imagery, to the thousands of holes we’re digging to look at soil compaction, to compost applications, to soil salinity – everything. We want to make sure that there’s literally no stone unturned,” says Matt Hemphill, executive director of Potatoes New Brunswick. “There is no one-size-fits-all and no magic bullet in this process because we have such variability in soil and weather conditions.” Drone imagery – advantages and hurdlesA drone with a specialized camera and advanced software can be used to map in-field variability. The drone flies over the field in parallel passes to capture the entire field in a series of overlapping images. The camera can be set up to capture particular wavelengths of light; for instance, near-infrared wavelengths may be of interest because healthy plants reflect more near-infrared light than stressed or dead plants. So a near-infrared image of a field could potentially be used to identify patches where the plants are stressed due to problems like disease or low nutrient levels. “For instance, if we could use the imagery to identify the parts of a field that aren’t deficient in certain nutrients, then a potato producer wouldn’t need to waste time, energy and money in putting fertilizer products on those parts of the field,” Hemphill says. “Imagine, instead of broadcasting X number of tonnes per acre of lime across the whole field, you maybe only have to apply it to 25 per cent of the field. You can imagine how quickly those savings would add up. The same goes for other input costs.” Zebarth explains that, before drones became available, the main way to map vegetation patterns was with satellite imagery, which has advantages and disadvantages compared to drone imagery. “One advantage of satellite imagery is that it’s calibrated [so the imagery data is easier to use in advanced analysis]. But there are two big problems with satellites. The first one is that you can’t control when they capture imagery of your field – they only fly over the field every so often, and they can’t see through the clouds. In New Brunswick, we have a lot of cloud cover. The other disadvantage of satellite imagery is its low resolution; a ‘pixel’, an individual point of information, represents an area of maybe five by five to 30 by 30 metres in size [on the ground]. So we’ve never used satellite imagery very much to look at crops here in the East.” Drones avoid those disadvantages. The user can choose where and when to capture the imagery, as long the operator flies the drone safely and legally. (Anyone operating a drone in Canada must follow the rules set out in the Canadian Aviation Regulations and must respect all federal, provincial/territorial and municipal laws related to trespassing and privacy.) Cloud cover isn’t as much of an issue for drones because they fly below the clouds. And drone imagery is at a much higher resolution, about seven to 10 centimetres, depending on how high the drone is flown. These advantages are making drones popular with crop growers. “People are already using drones, mostly for qualitative assessment. Drones are fantastic for that,” Zebarth notes. “One such application is to have a visual look at your field. For example, if you fly the drone when the crop is beginning to emerge, you can really see the field’s variability – where the crop is already emerging and doing well, where it is just emerging, and where it hasn’t emerged yet.” Another qualitative application is to target field scouting. Zebarth explains, “In the image of the field, you might see a patch that looks different. The imagery won’t tell you what the problem is; it will just tell you something is there. So you can go out to the field and look at that patch to identify the problem.” However, the project team wants to take drone imagery a step further. “We’d like to get to where it’s a more sophisticated tool,” Zebarth says. “We want to determine quantitative differences, like trying to develop relationships between the imagery and things like yield and leaf area index, and so on.” McCain Foods has its own drone, camera and software for this type of geo-referenced field mapping, and it has trained two of its employees to operate the drone, one as a pilot and the other as a spotter. For the project, they are flying the drone over commercial potato fields in New Brunswick. So far, they’ve collected imagery for about 50 fields. They fly the drone over each field several times during the growing season. The first flight is when the soil is still bare, so they can look for differences in soil moisture and drainage across the field. The subsequent flights are timed to capture the crop during early and late emergence, mid-season, and early and late senescence. Zebarth says, “So we’re looking at: do we have variation in the soil, the early canopy growth, and the canopy die-down.” One hurdle in their quantitative use of drone imagery is to correctly stitch together all the individual images from the drone’s flight over the field. “The drone might take perhaps 50 to 100 different images of the field. Those images have to be pieced together, which is called ‘mosaicking.’ If you have a discrete object, like a house or a fence in the images, mosaicking is not too difficult because you can easily find that object in the different images and align them. But if all you have in the image are rows of potato plants, there is not much to align with,” Zebarth notes. “There is mosaicking software to do that, but it’s not perfect. So we’re working with one of the drone companies to figure out how to get the images almost perfectly lined up so you can get down to looking almost at the [individual] plants.” A second hurdle relates to calibration. “The drone’s camera is actually measuring how bright the light is in different bands; it is taking pictures that have red, green and blue, like a regular camera, but it may also have near-infrared. So it gives you a number from one to 255 in each of those bands, but it is just a relative number. To calculate things like vegetation indices, such as the NDVI [normalized difference vegetation index], you can use a relative brightness to get a relative value of the NDVI. However, you have to convert it to a reflectance value to get a true value for the NDVI that you can compare across fields or measurement dates. That’s where it has to be calibrated,” Zebarth explains. The researchers are making good progress with overcoming both of these hurdles. Plus, they are testing over 20 different vegetation indices to determine what each index is sensitive to and which ones work best for potato fields in New Brunswick. “For instance, one index might be mostly sensitive to how much coverage there is of green leaves, whereas another one might be more sensitive to how much chlorophyll is in the leaves,” Zebarth says. They’ve already found that the NDVI, a common index for measuring vegetation cover, isn’t the best choice for potato crops. “For potatoes, the NDVI reading initially goes up as the canopy develops, but after the canopy reaches a certain density, the NDVI becomes insensitive.” Some of the other indices don’t have that drawback. Once the researchers complete this work in the coming months, they’ll have a much better idea of how they can use the drone imagery. The information from this work could also help agronomists, crop advisors and growers with an interest in quantitative uses of drone imagery in potato production. “In the long run, drone imagery is going to be a tool to add to our arsenal of tools, for sure,” Leclerc says. Progress on agronomic findingsOne of the project’s key agronomic findings so far is the degree of variability in potato fields. “We are seeing a lot more variability in our fields than we had expected. Although some fields are relatively uniform, other fields have pretty dramatic variation,” Zebarth says. The results so far indicate that, in New Brunswick, much of the variability is due to the soil. “What we think has been going on is a gradual decline in soil health over decades,” Zebarth says. The wet spring in 2013 emphasized some of this soil variability. He says, “When we visited the field sites, we would see places in some fields where there wasn’t a single plant. It looked like problems with poor drainage or loss of soil structure or low soil organic matter. So that is why a lot of the remedies that we’re trying are ways to improve soil health, like compost applications or changing crop rotations.”   Leclerc notes, “The biggest challenge is determining the underlying causes of the differences in productivity. In some cases it’s fairly easy to pinpoint, especially [with the wet conditions] in the project’s first year, but in other cases it is a lot more difficult. We are examining that aspect with very precise soil and subsoil analysis.” Once a field’s variability is mapped and the causes of its differences in productivity are understood, then the field’s management zones can be defined and managed. “We can work on those management zones to improve the limitations, which are most likely soil-related. Or, if that cannot be done, the idea is to manage the different zones differently. So perhaps we might back off in terms of inputs on the lower productivity zones and reallocate those resources to the higher productivity zones, and look at changing the spacing perhaps on the higher productivity zones to take advantage of their higher yielding capabilities,” Leclerc says. After the trials with the various management practices are completed, the project team will analyze the results to see which practices provide the most consistent benefits, how effective they are, and under what conditions they are most effective, and to determine which options make the most economic sense.   “At the end of the day, we need to look at the input costs and profitability,” Hemphill says. “The outcome needs to work for the growers and the processors in order for the industry to remain sustainable.”   
March 31, 2016 – Two Agrifac Condor Endurance sprayers are heading to Alberta this week. Manufactured in the Netherlands, the pendulum chassis eliminates boom movement makes sure that the weight distribution is equal on all four wheels. The chassis enables a 2,100 US gallon tank and booms up to 180 feet. Due to the design of the tank, no rest liquids stay behind, and the EcoTronicPlus display is the spray computer as well as the interface for machine settings. For more information on Agrifac and on the self-propelled sprayers, check out or
March 3, 2016, Charlottetown, PEI – With its highest attendance in a decade, the 2016 edition of the International Potato Technology Expo – held Feb. 26-27 – was a resounding success. Approximately 3,200 industry professionals walked the show floor to check out the diverse grouping of local, regional, national, and international exhibitors. Potato growers, together with the leading manufacturers of equipment and product solutions from across the Maritimes and beyond were in attendance. Matt Mitchell, show manager, said he was very pleased with the outcome of the event. “We were happy to see that this year’s edition drew the show’s highest attendance since 2006,” he said. “I think the excellent conference program really contributed to that, given that it was so well attended. Likewise, we certainly couldn’t have asked for better weather, and the addition of the tractors was a great draw for potato farmers.” Exhibitors echoed the positive sentiments. “This year’s show was another very successful event,” said Brian Beaton, potato industry coordinator with the PEI Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. “All the major suppliers to the potato industry were there and attendance by potato growers was very high. I heard many positive comments about the speakers at the conference and many said that they picked up some valuable information for their farm.” “The potato expo provided an excellent opportunity to connect with our customers and others in the ag industry,” said Karen MacInnis Larter, Farm Credit Canada (FCC) marketing program manager. “We were proud to be the major sponsor for this year’s event,” she added. “It was a great showcase and an excellent learning event for producers. They could find industry related information pertinent to their operations and hear top-notch speakers. It was a quality event from start to finish.” “We found the expo extremely beneficial,” said Trent Cousins, Allan Potato Handling Equipment Ltd. “We feel there was a huge attendance from our industry. Having our exhibit in the show put us in touch with many customers, both new and existing, that we may not have had the chance to meet with. We will definitely be attending again in the future.” “I can honestly say that this year show was by far better for us in quality lead generation and people coming to visit our booth; industry interest was like we haven’t seen in a few years,” said Marco Gagnon, GOW Group Inc. “All in all, we qualify this event a success for us.” This year, a full educational conference program was offered alongside the tradeshow portion of the event. It featured seminar presentations from leading experts, including Dr. Tom Wolf, Agrimetrix Research & Training, Saskatoon, SK; Dr. Bernie Zebarth, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fredericton, NB; Dr. Gefu Wang-Pruski, Dalhousie University Agricultural Campus, Truro, NS; and Lane Stockbrugger, Farm Credit Canada, Englefeld, SK. The conference was well attended with 173 registrants and strong attendance for both the morning and afternoon sessions. The next edition of the International Potato Technology Expo will occur in February 2018 and information will be posted online at as it becomes available.
Jan. 25, 2016, Ontario – Dianne Saxe, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, says farmers are being subsidized by not having to pay taxes on diesel fuel designated for field-equipment use. Dyed reddish-purple, the diesel is bought by farmers in bulk for use in farm machinery. It’s not allowed in farm trucks or other vehicles used mainly on roads. But maybe that subsidy — gasoline tax breaks in Ontario amount to $190 million a year — should be replaced by something that supports agriculture, but doesn’t also encourage the use of climate-changing fossil fuels, Saxe said in an interview. | READ MORE
January 4, 2015, Carberry, Man – Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development officials recently announced an investment of nearly $380,000 for the McCain Foods Canada potato processing plant in Carberry. The governments' investment, provided under Manitoba's Growing Forward 2 Growing Value program, will be used to install new and innovative equipment at the facility. The plant processes about 430 million pounds of Manitoba-grown potatoes every year, mostly into French fries. "In order to stay competitive, it's important to have equipment that runs efficiently, allowing maximum productivity and minimal waste,” said Dean Melnic, plant manager with McCain Foods, Carberry. “We export 80 per cent of the products we make at our plant, so investments in equipment help support our employees, local growers, and the surrounding communities." The governments' investment represents half of the total equipment cost. McCain Foods Canada has invested more than $30 million in other upgrades to the Carberry facility over the last 10 years, including a $23 million wastewater upgrade. The potato processing plant employs about 220 people, with another 10 positions to be created over the next three years as a result of the new equipment. Manitoba is Canada's second-largest potato producer behind PEI, supporting 120 potato growers and employing 1,500 full-time and casual workers. In 2013, 70,000 acres of potatoes were grown in Manitoba, valued at about $192 million.
Oct. 29, 2015, Charlottetown – After 10 years of operation in Stratford, P.E.I., HJV Equipment, the specialized agriculture equipment company that has a particular focus on potato equipment, plans to move across the Hillsborough Bridge to Charlottetown, writes The Guardian. | READ MORE
October 29, 2015, Charlottetown, PEI – As P.E.I.'s potato harvest winds up, there's a distinctly different look to many Island warehouses: they've installed shiny new metal detectors, at a cost of between $50,000 to half a million dollars each. Last fall, steel needles and other sharp metal objects were detected in P.E.I. potatoes at processing plants and in bags sold throughout Atlantic Canada. A number of metal objects were found in potatoes again this spring. READ MORE

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