Top Crop Manager


Cross country roundup

November 14, 2007  By Margaret Land

British Columbia
Potato producers in British Columbia had an 'average' year according to Tom Demma, general manager of the British Columbia Vegetable Marketing Commission. "It wasn't a great year but it wasn't a bad year either."

The spring seeding season went well with 8000 acres planted, on average and close to 2005's 8200 acres. Growers without irrigation faced challenges during the growing season as high heat led to water stress. Even growers with irrigation were kept hopping as they moved equipment from field to field. The summer's high temperatures resulted in lighter potato weights at harvest. The province was graced with good harvest weather, a treat from previous years, until the rains started in late October.

"We didn't leave any potatoes in the field," says Demma. Potatoes in storage are doing well, he adds, with no reports of any problems. The 2006 season in British Columbia resulted in 2.24 million cwt with an average yield of 260cwt/ac. This is almost identical to 2005's production of 2.28 million cwt but down from 2003's production of 2.6 million cwt.


Potato producers in Alberta had a banner harvest and a fairly good growing year, resulting in average yields of 342cwt/ac with production of 18.2 million cwt in 2006.

"We considered ourselves very fortunate compared to some of our other growing neighbours," says Vern Warkentin, executive director of the Potato Growers of Alberta. "Our harvest went very well."

Producers in Alberta planted 54,500 acres in the spring of 2006, although five to seven percent of the crop was lost to drown-out during some heavy June rains in the southern part of the province. Central Alberta experienced dry conditions during the summer followed by a bit of wet weather, resulting in only a slight affect on the province's seed potato crop.

Warkentin says winter seed potato crop trials from Hawaii are showing great results for Alberta seed.

About 73 percent of Alberta's potato production is destined for processing markets with 24 percent set aside for seed. Only three percent is sold in the fresh market due to well-established markets for Manitoba and British Columbia potato stocks.

On the processing side, "There have been a few reports of colour issues in frying" among the chipping varieties, but it appears to be an isolated issue, says Warkentin, adding the frozen French fry stocks are processing "very nicely."

Once again, the ability to irrigate played an important role in potato crop yields during the 2006 season in Saskatchewan. Growers in the province planted 8500 acres this past spring, down from 10,000 acres in 2005, and were met with a hot, dry summer. About 90 percent of Saskatchewan potato producers use irrigation so "quality was good and yields were average to above average," says Connie Achtymichuk, vegetable specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food.

The hot, dry weather lasted into harvest but quickly changed to cold conditions with a frost occurring in mid October. "We did leave some potatoes in the field," she adds.

Production in Saskatchewan for 2006 was 2.3 million cwt with an average yield of 265cwt/ac, according to Statistics Canada data. This is slightly below 2005's production of 2.6 million cwt. The crop went into storage well and "so far, so good," says Achtymichuk. "The crop appears to be storing in good shape."

The excessively wet conditions of the 2005 growing season were not repeated in 2006, much to the relief of Manitoba potato producers. About 82,000 acres were planted. Most fields had adequate to slightly above average moisture levels at spring planting and most growers in the province held off on crop amendments, preferring a cautious approach to the season.

"A lot of growers had the memory of 2005 fresh in their minds," explains Tom Gonsalves, potato specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

Most of the growing season was dry with below average rainfalls recorded from June to August, but the rain returned in September, just in time for harvest. "The timing of the rains certainly wasn't great," says Gonsalves. "It came much later in the year when growers were more interested in harvest than bulking up their crop."

There were a few isolated reports of late blight across the province but "it didn't become a big issue. It certainly wasn't wide spread." Colorado potato beetle pressure was also lower than previous years.

About 22.7 million cwt of potatoes were harvested in 2006, at an average yield of 280cwt/ac. This is up considerably from 2005 when only 15.96 million cwt of potatoes were harvested, at an average yield of 210cwt/ac, and 10,000 acres were left in the field.

While harvest conditions were generally wet, the bulk of the crop entered storage in good condition and no frozen potatoes were reported. Gonsalves did report a few incidents of sugar end issues with the harvest, but it is not known how wide spread the issue is in storage. "Physically, the crop went into storage in good condition and it's maintaining that," he says.

Potato producers in Ontario were met with the challenge of frost in May, which resulted in spring setbacks for some growers, but overall the province's potato crop was good with high quality tubers produced.

Even so, "This was another unpredictable growing season," reports David MacKenzie, chairman of the Ontario Potato Board (OPB). "Yields varied from exceptional to below normal, with quality generally very good."

Harvest was definitely a challenge in the province as heavy rains and snow after Thanksgiving resulted in "interesting times in the field," according to Glen Squirrell, chairman of the OPB's Fresh Council. "It is a tribute to the tenacity and ingenuity of the Ontario grower that very few potatoes were left in the field."

Weather conditions also affected the processing side of production in the province. "The concern for the season is with storage," reports MacKenzie, adding that the wet weather led to many delays in the field. "Many of our traditional storage chippers are not reconditioning while other varieties harvested wet," which is resulting in higher than normal cullage.

Ontario growers planted 37,000 acres in 2006, resulting in production of 7.5 million cwt at an average yield of 209cwt/ac. Production was up slightly from 2005's production numbers of 5.75 million cwt but still well below 2003's production of nine million cwt.

New Brunswick
The 2006 season was a challenging one for New Brunswick potato producers, one they are glad to have behind them, according to Potatoes New Brunswick chairman, Ronald Piper. "Our growers rose to the challenge," he says.

Potato farmers in the province wrestled with weather issues all season, which resulted in sunburning/greening on the skin and hollow heart problems at harvest. As well, a humid summer resulted in high late blight pressure and the need for numerous protective sprays. Piper says any extra volume produced in 2006 will likely be lost to high cullage rates. "Those weather issues are having their effect. We've had to grade quite hard."

About 58,000 acres were planted in New Brunswick in 2006, resulting in a harvest volume of 17.1 million cwt with an average yield of 300cwt/ac. Production was up slightly from 2005 when New Brunswick potato growers produced about 14.4 million cwt from 57,000 acres planted. Acreage in the province has held stable for the past three years.

Prince Edward Island
Challenging weather during the growing season, combined with a wet harvest period led to increased cullage in the Prince Edward Island potato crop in 2006. While the province's potato producers seeded 97,000 acres at the start of the 2006 growing season, about 2200 acres were left in the field. Even so, production was up with a reported 28.4 million cwt harvested in the province at an average yield of 300cwt/ac. This is up from 2005 when 95,500 acres of potatoes produced 26.3 million cwt.

"We definitely did have a bigger crop," says Brenda Simmons, general manager of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board. "But we feel our marketable is no higher than last year's (2005) and may even be less."

Challenging growing weather during the 2006 season led to increased instances of hollow heart and sunburning, while wet conditions at harvest resulted in water soaking and some breakdown in storage. There was increased late blight pressure during the growing season, but "our growers did a great job keeping it under control," says Simmons. "We're not seeing any problems from that in storage."

Mandatory post-harvest virus testing of seed stocks was also promising with clean results. "They're looking good," she adds.

Marketing of the Prince Edward Island potato crop is also looking good with a strong offshore market, thanks in part to a dismal European potato harvest. "Our US volume is down and our Canadian volume is about the same as last year," reports Simmons, adding the board's biggest concern is the increased crop cullage. "We're still shipping, but a lot more is going on the cull pile. And it's the same with the processors." -30-

Canadian potato acreage.
Province 2004 2005 2006 estimated
Newfoundland 700 700 700
Prince Edward Island 106,000 96,000 97,000
Nova Scotia 5500 4200 3500
New Brunswick 58,500 57,000 58,000
Quebec 47,700 48,700 46,500
Ontario 40,000 36,300 37,000
Manitoba 96,000 86,000 82,000
Saskatchewan 12,000 10,000 9500
Alberta 58,000 56,000 54,500
British Columbia 8800 8200 8000
Total 433,200 403,100 396,700
Source: Statistics Canada, Agriculture Division.



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