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Overall, 2023 was a positive year for Canadian potato growers

December 13, 2023  By Potatoes in Canada

Stats Canada shows Canadian potato production at highest level over five-year span

A report from Statistics Canada says the potato sector saw its highest levels of seeded and harvested area, average yield and production over the last five years.

Numbers reveal that in 2023, there was 395,389 acres of seeded area, 385,368 acres harvested, 332.4 hundredweight per harvested acres (cwt) and more than 128 million hundredweight of production.

In October, the United Potato Growers of Canada (UPGC) predicted Canada’s 2023 potato crop would increase by 3.3 per cent overall compared to last year. The UPGC then slightly revised its estimates in November, saying overall production would be down from its previous prediction but still an increase over 2022.

Based on weather for harvest in October for the eastern provinces, as well as acres taken out of production in the west, UPGC sees overall production down close to 800 cwt from its earlier estimate, but still an increase of 2.6 per cent over last year and the highest ever for the country.

Despite decreases in the east, fresh sector potatoes should be readily available for domestic markets as pricing pressure due to oversupply in the pacific northwest continues to impact exports to the U.S.

P.E.I. has been fighting rain and now snow as they attempt to get the last few thousand acres into storage. Although not behind schedule as the province traditionally goes right out to Halloween, there has been some difficulty in the second half of the month getting into the fields. There are some concerns about storability as most of what is left to harvest are the Burbanks, which have now been subject to the most water, growers will be keeping a close eye throughout the winter.

The situation is similar in neighbouring New Brunswick. Although much closer to finishing harvest, they have had the same wet conditions as P.E.I. and Quebec throughout the growing season, with many saying the first three weeks of the month made the entire difference in the crop this year. This same great weather for harvest was enjoyed in Quebec as well, who are now close to finished harvesting the storage crop. Issues of hollow heart that were seen in the russets in New Brunswick were also seen in Quebec, mostly in the processing sector. The reds and yellows have fared much better in the province with reports of good quality. Storage so far is going well but there are concerns of potential losses over the winter.

Ontario started off with a similar wet and rainy June and July but did not experience the heavy rainfall seen in Quebec evidenced in the good crop this year. There were greater than average yields in the province and harvest conditions were decent for the most part, however, many growers are expecting a higher grade-out and potential issues with storage due to some wet conditions in the later weeks of harvest.

After a very hot and dry start to the growing season in Manitoba, July and August were a bit better as temperatures moderated. In the mostly irrigated processing sector fields, the yields were very good and within a couple of weeks of the start of harvest there were calls from growers looking for storage. This oversupply, along with damaged fields from hailstorms, is unfortunately resulting in growers abandoning up to 2,000 acres in the province. The fresh sector in Manitoba is reporting a very good crop considering that most of the reds and yellows are on dryland. Irrigated fields are noting very good yields, but the sector as a whole is estimating an average crop overall.

In Saskatchewan, the seed crop has done very well, despite a very hot May, as with Manitoba the weather improved through the season. Dryland areas may be below the three-year average, however, the irrigated fields are forecasting an excellent crop.

It is important to note that all seed areas across the country are reporting very good crops this year, even in Quebec, which was the hardest hit with precipitation, the seed sector further north was not as hard hit.

Alberta had an extremely dry year, going on three years now of drought-like conditions, reporting that irrigation supply was empty for the first time at the end of the growing season. They will need a good snowpack or may face allocation next year. Despite these conditions there was a very good crop and, unfortunately, Alberta is also caught up in the oversupply situation in the processing sector in the Pacific Northwest and processors will not be taking all of the potatoes coming out of the ground in the province this year.

In British Columbia, despite no more than two inches of rain from May through to September, growers have reported an excellent crop, and the bins are full. Although below the five-year average, production estimates for 2023 are greater than the last two years.

Funding helps P.E.I. potato growers

The Canadian government has announced a combined contribution of more than $12.5 million for 27 businesses across P.E.I., saying it is commitment to work with the P.E.I. potato sector to ensure producers and the businesses that support them are positioned for long-term sustainable growth.

In the fall of 2021, the detection of potato wart disrupted sales of P.E.I. potatoes to the United States, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Islanders. The Government of Canada launched the Prince Edward Island Potato Stabilization and Innovation Initiative (PSII) to help the industry recover.

The PSII is a two-year $16 million initiative that aims to help small and medium-sized enterprises modernize, diversify and adapt to meet changing market conditions. The initiative supports investments in a range of areas including digitalization and automation, improved storage, development of value-added products and diversification.

P.E.I. potato wart investigation concludes

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) completed its investigation related to the two 2021 detections of potato wart in Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), which also identified potato wart in four additional fields during the course of the investigation.

CFIA accelerated its in-depth investigation to help contain, control and prevent the spread of potato wart and to maintain market access for P.E.I. potatoes.

Over the course of the investigation, CFIA collected and analyzed nearly 50,000 soil samples from fields in P.E.I. associated with recent detections. Discovering four additional fields with potato wart was expected in investigations of this scale, according to CFIA.

In these cases, and whenever potato wart is detected, land controls are put in place on individual fields to restrict the movement of potatoes, plants, soil and other articles that could result in the spread of potato wart. Throughout the fall, CFIA will continue to conduct surveillance activities in P.E.I., including the surveillance of selected fields not previously associated with potato wart.

CFIA says this investigation was essential for supporting one of Canada’s critical agricultural sectors and for demonstrating to domestic and international trading partners that Canada is committed to helping contain, control and prevent the spread of potato wart.

Alberta leads country in potato acreage increase for 2023

Statistics Canada released its first estimate of potato acreage in Canada, which is estimated at 396,922 acres, a 2.5 per cent increase or 9,819 acres more than last year.

In 2022 acreage had been very flat over 2021, an increase of only 2,818 acres in contrast to a big jump in 2021 post-COVID. The majority of increases we have seen in the last two to three years have been predominantly in the major processing provinces, bringing supply back to meet demand increases in the industry that began pre-COVID. However, due to significant rises in input costs starting in early 2021, coupled with increased interest rates and land costs, as well as seed shortages, most areas in Canada saw acreage remain fairly flat compared to last year.

The largest acreage increase in 2023 was reported in Alberta, planting an additional 6,920 acres representing a 9.5 per cent increase over last year. Most of this increase is in the processing sector responding to continued increases in global demand for frozen fries as well as the announcement earlier this year regarding the planned expansion of the McCain Coaldale facility.

P.E.I. saw an acreage increase of one per cent.

All other provinces showed increases in planted acreage for this crop year at varying levels, with the exception of Quebec, which posted a 731-acre decrease compared to 2022 (based on the revised acreage figure of February 2023). Most regions reported differences in acreage figures depending on the sector, with some, like Quebec, down in chip but up in frozen and flat on-table and seed, or Manitoba slightly up in fresh but flat in processing.

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