BRANDON — The reign of Prince Edward Island is over.
Very soon, Manitoba will be the new potato king of Canada.
Simplot is spending $400 million to expand its french fry processing plant in Portage la Prairie. The larger factory, double the size of the existing plant, will be operational in early 2020.
Simplot will require 16,000 more acres of potatoes to supply the plant, which will propel Manitoba into the number one spot in the country.
“The additional potato production will see Manitoba become the largest producer of potatoes in Canada,” provincial Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler said at Manitoba Ag Days in Brandon.
In the last few years Manitoba farmers have seeded about 64,000 acres of spuds. In P.E.I., acreage is around 85,000.
It’s likely that P.E.I. will still have the most acres of potatoes in 2019, but Manitoba potato yields are about 20 percent higher than the Island, and overall production is only 10 percent less than P.E.I.
That means the addition of 16,000 acres will put Manitoba over the top.
The investment in Manitoba’s potato sector is significant for the economy.
Besides the $400 million Simplot expansion, McCain Foods is spending $75 million to upgrade its potato processing plants in Carberry and Portage la Prairie.
“Our investments … are testaments to McCain’s ongoing commitment to growers, employees and the communities in which we operate in Manitoba,” Jeff DeLapp, McCain Foods’ president for North America, said in late November.
Eichler said more demand for potatoes will encourage growers to invest more money in their farms, spending on irrigation equipment and tile drainage to boost potato yields.
The Simplot expansion is only a few weeks behind schedule. The company will need more potatoes in 2019 so the larger plant has a sufficient supply for 2020.
“I just got an update the other day,” Eichler said.
“They’ll be accepting potatoes in September (and) October with the intent of being in full production by January. This year is critical to get a decent crop.”
Manitoba’s potato production dropped in 2018 because of wet weather and cold temperatures last fall. A number of producers weren’t able to get on their fields to dig, so 5,200 acres of potatoes were not harvested.
Simplot has been importing potatoes from Alberta and Idaho to compensate for the shortfall in Manitoba,