Bad harvest weather causes potato shortage

Four percent of the national crop was not harvested this year, and potato processors are facing a shortfall

From Prince Edward Island to Alberta, this fall was a massive migraine for potato growers.

Rain, snow and unseasonably cold weather prevented producers from digging potatoes out of the ground.

As a result, about four percent of the crop was not harvested and potato processors are facing a shortfall.

“This has been a very difficult harvest in almost all provinces in Canada,” Kevin MacIsaac, United Potato Growers of Canada general manager, said in an email to media and potato industry leaders. “Approximately 15,000 acres in the country had to be abandoned, which will have implications for our supply this marketing season.”

Seeing how Canada typically has 340,000 to 350,000 acres of spuds, 15,000 acres doesn’t sound like a lot.

But the potato industry carefully manages its production so supply and demand are aligned. When 4.3 percent of acres are lost, processors will struggle to replace the missing potatoes.

The worst hit area is likely Prince Edward Island.

The weather on the Island this fall was rain, rain and more rain. Growers didn’t have enough days of decent weather to dig potatoes out of the ground.

“The last suitable day for harvest was Nov. 9,” MacIsaac said in a report. “(Then) abnormally cold temperatures dipped to -15 C and two snowstorms since have prevented further progress. The P.E.I. Potato Board surveyed all growers and estimate that 6,800 acres were not harvested.”

P.E.I. has 84,000 to 85,000 acres of potatoes, so about eight percent of spuds are still in the soil.

“Between two and 2.5 million hundredweight may have been left in the ground due to extreme weather conditions,” MacIsaac said.

Cavendish Farms operates a frozen potato processing plant in New Annan, P.E.I. It may have to bring in potatoes from off the Island to produce french fries and other products.

In 2017, Cavendish had to transport potatoes, by rail and truck, from Manitoba, Alberta and elsewhere because a drought on P.E.I. reduced potato yields and overall production.

Simplot and McCain Foods, which have processing plants in Portage la Prairie and Carberry, Man., will also be short on potatoes.

“Our overall production was down about two million (cwt.),” said Dan Sawatzky, manager of the Keystone Potato Producers Association in Manitoba. “One processor is already … bringing in potatoes from the west (Alberta and Idaho).”

About 5,200 acres of 64,000 seeded acres were not harvested in Manitoba because of September and October rain and persistently muddy conditions.

Plus, below normal temperatures froze the soil the second week of October, making it nearly impossible to dig out potatoes.

Alberta is likely the only province with a slight excess in production. MacIsaac said about 500 acres in Alberta were abandoned.

In the United States, Idaho, Washington state and Oregon all produced more potatoes this year than expected. But shipping potatoes from the northwestern U.S. to processing plants in Canada is expensive. The cost of transporting spuds by rail and truck to P.E.I. is likely higher than the value of the potatoes.

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