Alta. farmers boost processing potato acres


Exports to United States | U.S. french fry exports are increasing and ‘with their growth, comes our growth,’ says PGA official

An additional 2,000 acres have been contracted for fry processing potatoes in Alberta following increased demand from processors, says the executive director of Potato Growers of Alberta. 


The additional acres will bring production up to 40,000 for 2012, which Edzo Kok said is a record. 


Total acreage in the province, when seed and fresh potatoes are included, will be closing in on the high of 54,000 acres achieved in the mid 2000s. 


“Which is quite positive, considering the world economic situation and the fact that the potato industry has been fairly flat the last few years,” said Kok. 


“To still be experiencing growth in our province is very encouraging.”


Alberta producers harvested 50,500 acres of potatoes last year, Kok said, but growth in the seed and fresh sectors has been static. The new acres meet a demand for exports to the United States, he added.


“The U.S. continues to be our biggest customer and the U.S. is probably one of the bigger exporters in the global french fry trade,” he said. 


“As they export more, they then look to Canada to backfill that volume into their markets, so we rely fairly heavily on the U.S. market and their export business and they’re doing quite well…. With their growth comes our growth.”


Kok said much of last year’s growing season was ideal, but a wet and cool spring meant producers got off to a late start. 


This year, growers were able to get to work as early as the first week of April. Planting was completed by the second week of May and growers are 10 days ahead of a normal schedule, said Kok.


“We’re very optimistic this year,” he said. 


“We’re off to a very good start and if we could just get average growing conditions going forward, there’s no reason why we won’t pull off a very good crop.”


Some seed samples in the province have tested positive for late blight, which in 2010 spread from home gardens into commercial crops. 


Increased monitoring and surveillance for late blight kept the disease under control last year, but the risk remains, said Robert Spencer, a commercial horticulture specialist with Alberta Agriculture. The disease comes from planting infected tubers and spreads by wind and water-borne spores.


“Vigilance is all about watching, but it’s also about taking preventive steps prior to a threat being determined,” he said.


Spencer encourages producers to be proactive by scouting fields and making a fungicide application if necessary.


Lawrence Kawchuk of Agriculture Canada in Lethbridge will provide testing for the disease and is re-searching resistance and fungicide chemistry.


“We’re fortunate that due to our geographic location and our climate, we don’t have a lot of disease and pest pressure,” said Kok.


“The bit that we do have, the guys are very conscientious and do what they have to to make sure that they keep the crop healthy.”

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