Manitoba potato acres take big hit

Canada’s potato acreage will be down slightly this year with significant drops in Manitoba and New Brunswick.

Statistics Canada data, released the third week of July, indicates the country will have 342,602 acres of potatoes, a 1.8 percent decline from 2015.

The year-over-year decrease is part of a longer trend of slumping potato acres. In 2006, Canadian farmers planted approximately 400,000 acres of potatoes. Acreage has bounced around over the last decade, but the trend line is down.

French fry demand is weakening or flat in North America and potato yields have been creeping upward, thus cutting into overall acres.

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Potato industry reps have been counting on exports of frozen potato products, mostly to Asia, to boost demand and overall production in Canada and the United States.

However, a labour dispute between shipping companies, port operators and the longshoremen’s union lasted for months in 2014 and 2015, strangling cargo movement at ports from Los Angeles to Seattle.

“They (french fry companies) lost some of their export markets last year due to the Seattle port slowdown,” said Kevin MacIsaac, United Potato Growers of Canada general manager.

“We rely on that export market to drive (sales) … particularly the french fries out of the western U.S. and Western Canada. They tend to be exported more.”

New Brunswick and Manitoba acreage declined the most in Canada:

•    New Brunswick acres sank by 4.5 percent, going from 48,150 to 46,000,

•     Manitoba acres went from 67,300 in 2015 to 64,500, a drop of 4.2 percent.

•    Alberta recorded 52,300 acres this year, down from 53,128 last year,

Simplot, which operates a potato processing plant in Portage la Prairie, Man., cut back on production contracts partly because it had an excess of potatoes in 2015.

“They (Simplot) did go about 22 percent (higher) last year, so I think this is a little bit of a correction,” said Dan Sawatzky, Keystone Potato Growers Association manager.

As well, Cavendish Foods, which has a potato processing plant in Jamestown, North Dakota, didn’t contract potato production in Manitoba this year.

Acreage may be down, but the positive news for growers is that potato yields are steadily increasing across Canada.

Average yields in the country topped 300 hundredweight (cwt.) per acre for the first time in 2015, compared to 274 cwt. per acre in 2012.

Manitoba growers have averaged 310 to 320 cwt. the last three years and yields in Alberta now range from 350 to 380 cwt. per acre.

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