Squeezed harvest causes potato shortage in Manitoba

Manitoba has a potato shortage.

Growers in the province had expected to produce about 22 million hundredweight of potatoes in 2018, but the actual total will be about nine percent less.

“Our overall production was down about two million (cwt.),” said Dan Sawatzky, manager of the Keystone Potato Producers Association.

Simplot and McCain Foods, which operate french fry plants in Manitoba, will have to ship in potatoes from Alberta and Idaho to compensate for the shortfall.

“One processor is already … bringing in potatoes from the West,” said Sawatzky, who spoke Nov. 12 at a Keystone Agricultural Producers meeting in Portage la Prairie.

Potato production dropped in Manitoba because of poor conditions at harvest.

The weather was wet and cold for the last 10 days of September and most of October, so potato growers didn’t have enough time to dig up the entire crop. Plus, below normal temperatures froze the soil the second week of October – making it nearly impossible to dig out potatoes.

Of 64,000 acres that were planted, about eight percent of acres were not harvested.

“We ended up with about 5,200 acres left in the ground. It’s unprecedented,” Sawatzky said.

“Growers didn’t have (enough) harvest days to get the crop off.”

The potato shortfall could have been more severe. Yields from the harvested crop were above average, boosting overall production.

The potato shortage comes at a time when Manitoba will soon need more spuds.

In February, Simplot announced a $460 million expansion of its potato processing plant in Portage la Prairie. The expansion will more the double the amount of potatoes needed to supply the plant. Sawatzky estimated that Simplot will require an additional six million cwt. of potatoes, which represents 15,000 to 20,000 acres.

The expanded facility is scheduled to open next fall.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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