Fewer acres planted | Manitoba growers are seeing good yields, but Alberta suffered late blight and hail
This year’s potato crop should be in harmony with consumer demand after a year of overproduction and depressed prices, says a United Potato Growers of Canada spokesperson.
General manager Kevin MacIsaac said the crop will be significantly smaller than last year because Canadian growers planted 3.2 percent fewer acres and American acres are down seven percent.
Nonetheless, there should be sufficient potatoes to satiate consumer appetites, he said.
“There are enough potatoes around because our consumption has not been going up on fresh potatoes, it’s been going down,” MacIsaac said.
“The reality is we can almost get by with a few less potatoes each year, until we are able to change that consumption curve.”
Potato growers don’t want a repeat of last year, when higher than expected acreage in Canada and the United States and average to above average yields flooded the market and caused prices to plummet.
In February, prices hit a low of $1.10 for a 10 pound bag of fresh potatoes.
“You’d have to be getting $1.50 (per 10 lb.) just to meet the cost of production,” MacIsaac said in March.
Prices have rebounded since then and spiked this summer.
“Prices bumped up about a month ago…. There came a point in the system where there was a very low supply of potatoes available to feed the market,” MacIsaac said.
“So prices went very, very high at the end of July (to) around $45 a hundredweight, which is a very high price.”
Potato prices have since backed off that peak because North American growers have been harvesting potatoes for a couple of weeks. For example, MacIsaac said fresh potato prices in Manitoba were $35 per cwt. in early September.
Prices will likely fall further as the harvest progresses.
However, lower acreage than last year means an oversupply of potatoes is unlikely this year.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, American potato growers planted 1.077 million acres this year, which is down 6.6 percent from last year.
United Potato Growers of America president Jerry Wright said the acreage reduction was needed to balance the market.
“Idaho alone will be down an estimated eight percent,” he wrote on the United Potato Growers website in late August.
“Idaho cutting eight percent of 345,000 acres will drop nearly 28,000 acres out of production. That was a needed correction … (for) a manageable yet adequate supply for the coming 12 months.”
Statistics Canada estimates from July show that Canadian acres fell 3.2 percent, dropping from 373,400 last year to 361,600 this year.
As well, several potato production regions had difficult or middling growing conditions this summer.
For instance, the North American Potato Market News reported in August that North Dakota production would drop 22.6 percent this year as a cold, wet spring forced producers to abandon their potato crop.
In Canada, the weather in Prince Edward Island was unusually dry this summer, which will cut into potato yields.
“It’s expected the crop will be off a bit in P.E.I.,” MacIsaac said.
Dan Sawatzky, general manager of the Keystone Potato Producers Association, said the process potato harvest is just underway in Manitoba, but yields should be at or above the provincial five-year average of 280 cwt. per acre.
“Growers are quite pleased with what they’re seeing,” he said.
“For the most part, the farmers should have pretty good yields.”
In Alberta, Sawatzky said late blight and hail pressured the potato crop this summer.
As a result, it’s unlikely Alberta growers will repeat last year’s large yields when the provincial average hit 344 cwt. per acre.
“Their potential for a bunch of overages (is) diminished.”