Editorial: Spring 2019
It has not been an easy year for Canadian potato growers. After having the chance to speak with growers from Manitoba to Prince Edward Island, the consensus is this year was unprecedented ¬– even for those most senior in the industry.
The hot and dry weather experienced in summer 2018, followed by brutal harvest conditions, resulted in a 2.6 per cent decrease in Canadian potato production according to the United Potato Growers of Canada. For some, almost two-thirds of their spuds were left abandoned in frozen ground.
After a particularly troubling year, it’s natural for everyone in our industry to wonder what lies ahead. This was evident in January at Manitoba Potato Production Days in Brandon, where Peter Vander Zaag, a farmer and potato scientist from Ontario, presented on the progress and challenges of China’s potato industry. The country now produces 20 times more potatoes than Canada. The leaps in progress that China had made in a short amount of time, combined with the opening of McCain’s French fry production plant in 2004, had audience members questioning how Canadian potato producers would be affected. But Vander Zaag was quick to come to the defense of Canadian producers, explaining China was having some difficulties producing the right varieties and characteristics for the French fry industry, and reaffirming the age-old saying of quality over quantity.
Despite difficult harvests and international competition, there’s still a lot of confidence in Canada’s potato producing abilities. Opportunities still exist, and continue to grow, for Canadian potato producers. Cavendish Farm’s new $360-million potato processing plant in Lethbridge, Alta., and Simplot’s $460-million processing facility expansion in Portage la Prairie, Man., are expected to be completed by the end of 2019. These encouraging news stories provided some respite when the weather wouldn’t.
The industry isn’t giving up on Canadian growers yet, and we’ve highlighted what growers can look forward to in 2019 and beyond in this issue. With a worldwide rise in demand for biopesticides, which are derived from natural animal, plant, bacteria and mineral sources, researchers are turning their focus to a promising biopesticide to fight late blight (read about this on page 18). The interest in precision agriculture has also not wavered, and precision agriculture tools for potato production are within grasp, which you can read about on page 10. Our cover story, on page 14, highlights the creative work of researchers as they test biological controls for common scab.
Finally, sometimes it’s about looking at what tools are already in your toolbox and using them to solve emerging problems. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have investigated how effective calcium fertilizer applications are in helping tubers combat heat and drought stress, with promising results, as you’ll see on page 6.
This past growing season was an opportunity to learn and be tested, but in tough conditions Canadian producers will continue to shine. As always, we wish you a prosperous growing season.