New plants drive potato acre expansion

Potato acres are up in Manitoba and Alberta this year as more spuds are needed to supply new and expanded processing plants on the Prairies.

Manitoba potato growers seeded 6,000 more acres than 2018 and Alberta acres are up 5,500 acres compared to last year, based on data from a July 17 United Potato Growers of Canada report.

Crop development is behind normal development in both provinces because of cool and dry weather this spring, but the report said the crop looks “very good” in Manitoba and “good” in Alberta.

Manitoba needs more potatoes this year to supply the expanded Simplot french fry plant in Portage la Prairie. The company’s spending $460 million to double the plant’s capacity.

Last year, Manitoba didn’t produce enough potatoes to supply Simplot and the two McCain processing plants in the province. A rainy fall and hard frost in early October hampered the potato dig, and producers were unable to harvest 5,200 acres.

That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it represented eight percent of the 64,000 potato acres in Manitoba last year.

For the sake of efficiency, Simplot and McCain’s have to operate their plants near capacity. As a result, they had to bring in potatoes from Idaho and Alberta.

“(Manitoba) has needed to import (more than) two million hundredweight to meet customer needs this year,” the United Potato Growers report said.

The additional 5,500 acres in Alberta will help supply the $350 million Cavendish Farms processing plant in Lethbridge.

Potato acres have also increased in other parts of Canada. New Brunswick farmers planted 1,500 more acres than 2018 and Quebec acres are up by 2,000.

The additional production is necessary because Canada’s potato processing industry is booming, thanks to robust demand for french fries and frozen potato products.

The companies have built new plants or expanded because existing facilities were running at capacity and couldn’t keep up with demand.

Canadian plants ship a large portion of their frozen potato products across the border to backfill the U.S. market because a portion of American production is exported overseas.

However, thanks to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Canadian based plants now have an advantage in Japan and emerging markets such as Vietnam.

The CPTPP will reduce import tariffs on processed food from Canada.

As an example, Vietnam had import tariffs of 24 percent on frozen french fries. A Government of Canada website says those tariffs will be eliminated in four years.

Similarly, Japan will eliminate its 13.6 percent tariffs on frozen french fries and prepared potato products in three years.

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