Record year for potatoes

Weather gives growers a boost | Yields up from five-year average

Canadian potato growers set a record this year: average yields were nearly 300 hundredweight per acre.


Statistics Canada said in its Nov. 21 potato production report that the average yield across the country was 298.2 cwt. per acre, which is up from 292.4 cwt. last year and up significantly from the 2006-12 average, when yields hovered around 280 cwt. per acre.


Statistics Canada said Alberta and Manitoba producers helped set the new record. 


Manitoba’s average yield was 312.8 cwt. per acre, a slight increase from the previous record of 310 cwt., which was set last year.


Alberta also set a new average yield record, hitting 361.2 cwt. per acre, which is up from last year’s average yield of 357 cwt. 


Kevin MacIsaac, United Potato Growers of Canada general manager, said excellent fall weather contributed to the record yields this year. 


“Initially we did not expect yield to be this high,” he said.


“What changed is that the weather came around at the very tail end of harvest.”


MacIsaac said potato yields are increasing in Canada.


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“There is no doubt in my mind that trend line yield will continue to increase each year following a pattern similar to the U.S.,” he said.


“As growers continue to improve their skills and access to technology increases, so will their yields.”


Reaching and exceeding an average of 300 cwt. per acre is important for Canada’s potato industry because potato acres have been falling in many parts of the country. This year acreage was 347, 539, down from the more than 400,000 acres that producers seeded in 2006. 


Manitoba potato acres have dropped over the last two years to 63,000 this year from 76,000 in 2012.


Canadian potato growers, particularly in Manitoba and Alberta, compete with Washington state and Oregon, where yields are higher.


Potatogrower.com reported that Washington growers averaged 605 cwt. per acre this year and Oregon producers averaged 585 cwt.


Potato processing companies such as Simplot and McCain’s, which operate french fry plants in Manitoba, have been shifting production to plants in regions with higher yields because potatoes can be bought there at a lower cost.


For example, ConAgra recently spent $200 million to upgrade and expand its frozen potato plant in Boardman, Ore. 


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MacIsaac said the Pacific Northwest’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean is another factor behind the production shift.


“The western areas are closer to the coast for export to Asia, where the big export market is today. That’s the only part of the industry that’s really been expanding,” he said.


“The potatoes, plants and french fries are closer to the export terminals.”


The good news for Canada’s potato industry is that North American frozen potato exports are on the rise.


The U.S. Potato Board said this fall that U.S. potato exports set a new record for the 2013-14. Exports of frozen potato products increased by 10 percent compared to the previous year, and all potato exports jumped by seven percent.


MacIsaac said the first half of this year was tremendous, and Canadian frozen potato exports increased. However, exports slid in the second half of the year.


French fry exports were down 8.2 percent in the third quarter. A Washington longshoreman’s strike and competition from European potatoes hurt shipments.


robert.arnason@producer.com

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