Potatoes in Canada

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Canadian processing potato holdings are 4.2 per cent above three-year average

Across Canada, with the exception of Manitoba, many provinces are seeing above average numbers for how many processing potatoes are stuck in storage.

May 13, 2020  By  Stephanie Gordon

The amount of potatoes in storage for Canada’s processing sector is 4.2 per cent above the three-year average as of May 1, 2020, according to the United Potato Growers of Canada’s (UPGC) latest update.

The UPGC attributes the higher numbers to the COVID-19 pandemic which has “had a dramatic effect on french fry sales as sit-down portions of quick service and fast casual restaurants were closed.”

Numbers reflect above average amount of potatoes left in storage

Alberta has 18.9 per cent more potatoes in storage than its three-year average. However, on closer look, Alberta is looking at 210,000 hundredweight (cwt) more potatoes in storage in 2020 than what it had this time last year. A low three-year average represents this stark contrast, but on a year-by-year comparison: 2020 has 3.3 per cent more potatoes than 2019, and 7.4 per cent more potatoes than 2018.

However, these extra potatoes are still significant. The Potato Growers of Alberta estimates about $60 to $70 million worth of processing potatoes are still in storage. According to a CTV Calgary report, Southern Alberta’s big three potato processors Cavendish Farms, McCain Foods, and Lamb Weston have cut the total size of contracted acreage this spring by 20 to 25 per cent. Alberta’s two potato chip processing companies, Pepsico-Frito Lay and Old Dutch, are still operating.

After Alberta, the provinces with a higher-than-average number of processing potatoes in storage include Ontario (11.4 per cent above its three-year average), Prince Edward Island (6.5 per cent), and Quebec (4.7 per cent).

Hover your mouse over to see each province’s difference from its three-year average and how many processing potatoes were in storage (000 cwt) as of May 1, 2020:

Bad harvest in Manitoba keeps storages closer to 2019 levels

The only province with fewer processing potatoes is Manitoba. Manitoba currently has 13.3 per cent less potatoes in storage when compared with its three-year average.

Initial storage holdings started out lower than previous years due to a difficult harvest and a number of abandoned acres.

As of May 1, 2020, Manitoba has 4,536,000 cwt in processing potato storage, which represents a 10 per cent increase from where it was in 2019 – another lacklustre harvest year. However, Manitoba’s 2020 storage numbers reflect a 19.4 per cent drop from where storage holdings for processing potatoes were in 2018.

In Manitoba, McCain Foods scaled back production at its Carberry and Portage la Prairie plants in response to COVID-19.

In their update, UPGC stated that french fry companies across the country have advised growers they may not be able to use all of their contracted raw processing inventory this year.

The sheer amount of potatoes currently sitting in storage have prompted a response from government. On May 6, the Canadian federal government announced $50 million will go toward a surplus food purchase program that will redistribute products, such as potatoes and poultry, to local food organizations. Prince Edward Island also announced it will provide $4.7 million to address the Island’s potato surplus as a result of COVID-19 market conditions.

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