Potatoes in Canada

News Agronomy
Highlights from Manitoba’s Potato Production Days

January 31, 2020
By Stephanie Gordon


Hundreds of potato growers and industry members descended into the Keystone Centre in Brandon, Man. for the Manitoba Potato Production Days (MPPD) held from Jan. 28 to 30, 2020.

The show was packed despite the province’s tough harvest this past growing season. In 2019, Manitoba led all the other provinces in unharvested acres when the province saw an estimated 13,000 acres of potatoes left in the ground, more than double the 5,300 acres left in 2018. Despite this news, industry is still expanding in Manitoba and J.R. Simplot Company’s (Simplot) french fry processing plant in Portage la Prairie, Man. is expected to be fully operational in 2020.

At MPPD, presentations on everything from planting disease-suppressive crops to measuring sucrose and glucose levels, ran across the hall from the trade show.

Neil Gudmestad, distinguished professor of potato and plant pathology at North Dakota State University, presented on black dot, powdery scab and potato mop top. These two presentations were his final presentations as a university researcher before he retires on Monday and begins consulting full-time. Many in the industry will remember Gudmestad for his work on potato diseases. His research program did work on 21 of the 40 economically important pathogens of potato globally – an astonishing achievement. To Gudmestad, this breadth of research has been one of the highlights of his role.

“I think some of the highlights for me are the fact that I have always responded to when the growers have wanted me to work on a new disease problem and I’ve been able to develop a research program around that and provide some some management strategies,” Gudmestad said. “There are 40 economically important pathogens of potato globally and my research program has worked on 21 of those 40 diseases. If you look at any other potato pathologist anywhere in the world, the most that I’ve been able to find is another person who’s worked on eight. Most most potato pathologists work on one or two diseases, and we’ve worked on 21 in published papers and develop management strategies for 21 different pathogens.”

He adds that his favourite two diseases to have worked on were zebra chip and potato mop top virus.

Other timely presentations included Tracy Shinners-Carnelley’s presentation on coping with pesticide re-evaluation. Shinners-Carnelley is the vice president of research and quality at Peak of the Market and she provided an update on the Group M fungicides: chlorothalonil, mancozeb, metiram, captan, and neonicotinoids which includes the family of insecticides imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.

“I think [pesticide re-evaluation] has become more of a timely topic for potato growers in the last number of years because so many key active ingredients in the potato industry were either undergoing reevaluation or special reviews,” Shinners-Carnelley says.  “So a lot of us in that industry has been consumed for the last number of years in responding to PMRA consultations, but now we’re at the point where we’re actually seeing final decisions being published and those label amendments being implemented.”

The main takeaway from that presentation was to check the most updated label through the Pest Management Regulatory Agency’s (PMRA) label database search or Pesticide Labels mobile app.

Other Canadian presenters included Ontario’s very own potato specialist Eugenia Banks, who presented on her late blight spore trapping project and how effective it has been for growers. Potatoes in Canada covered the four-year spore trapping project back in 2017, which has since been updated and continues to seek feedback from growers.

Banks stated that spore traps have been proven effective but should always be used alongside an integrated management approach to control late blight.

Ryan Barrett, research and agronomy specialist with the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, presented on soil-building crops in P.E.I., a growing area of interest for Island growers who are seeing their yield stagnant and are turning to soil health as a potential avenue for improvement.

“Historically the rotation [in P.E.I.] was usually potatoes followed by small grains like wheat or barley, and then under seeded with a forage crop like red clover and grasses,” explains Barrett. “But we’re starting to see that change quite a bit now, because we’ve seen red clover generally has been associated with some of these soil-borne diseases. It looks like it’s multiplying or making some of those issues worse.

“So we’ve we’ve had a lot of growers replacing red clover with other crops like mustard, buckwheat, sorghum sudangrass, pearl millet, multi-species mixes, or other forages like alfalfa.” Barrett presented on the different crops growers have been adding to the rotation, and some considerations for each.

Finally the presentations concluded with a grower panel on seed spacing. Manitoba producers John Goff with Corduroy Plains, Sheldon Wiebe with J.P. Wiebe, and Russel Jonk with Swanfleet Alliance, shared their experiences switching to a narrower row spacing. The move to narrower rows was to use existing land more efficiently and hopefully see an increase in yield, which some growers recorded depending on how well the potato season went.

All growers echoed similar sentiments that while there was a bit of a learning curve in terms of equipment, they will stick with their decisions to switch to 34″ row spacing, or 32″ row spacing in Wiebe’s and Goff’s case.