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Six percent drop in potato yields expected

Canadian farmers could produce around 100 million hundredweight of potatoes this year, down from 106.4 million cwt. last year.  | File photo

The biggest reductions are seen in Eastern Canada because of dry weather, but Western Canada is also disappointed

Canadian potato production will decline this year, possibly by six percent or more.

A hot and dry summer, especially in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, cut into potato yields across the country.

Last year, Canadian farmers produced 106.4 million hundredweight of potatoes. The 2020 crop could be around 100 million cwt.

“The biggest decrease in yields will be in Eastern Canada…. Also, Western Canada yields are not what they (expected),” said Kevin MacIsaac, United Potato Growers of Canada general manager.

“We’re estimating, as of today, (production) would be off by six million cwt…. It’s not a real crisis situation, but it’s a tightening of supply.”

Most of the potato crop in Canada is harvested, except for some parts of Quebec and Prince Edward Island. Harvested acreage is higher this year, which will help offset the yield losses.

In 2019, about 21,000 acres of potatoes were not harvested, mostly in Manitoba and Alberta, because of wet weather and a hard frost, which froze the soil in October.

Yields are down substantially in P.E.I. and New Brunswick because growers don’t have irrigation systems. In late August, CTV News reported that some parts of P.E.I. received 15 percent of normal rainfall this summer.

P.E.I. potato yields may drop by 15 to 25 percent.

“That could reduce (P.E.I.) production by five million cwt. and make it one of the lowest crops since back in 2001,” United Potato Growers said in a September report.

Official numbers haven’t been calculated in Manitoba, but yields may drop by 15 percent, said Dan Sawatzky, Keystone Potato Producers Association general manager.

The crop was seeded later than normal, there was a hot spell during flowering and a second heat wave in late August. All those factors cut into production.

In recent years, the average yield in Manitoba has been around 350 cwt. per acre.

If yields decline by 10 to 15 percent, the average could be 310 cwt. per acre.

The downturn in yield will force french fry plants in Carberry and Portage la Prairie, Man., to import potatoes from other regions, possibly Alberta, Idaho or Washington state.

Yields may be better in Alberta, but fewer processing contracts reduced acreage in the province. The new Cavendish Farms plant In Lethbridge has boosted local demand for process potatoes, so supply could be tight.

Canadian production may be off, but demand for fresh potatoes, french fries and chips is solid.

North Americans are eating more potatoes at home and consuming a massive amount of chips.

“The chip side has been amazing. Chip sales have increased right from March and increased all the way through the season. People just continue to eat more potato chips,” MacIsaac said.

French fry sales collapsed in the spring when COVID-19 forced the shutdown of thousands of restaurants. Consumption has since rebounded, and processing plants are operating close to normal capacity.

“A lot of the fryers would say they’re back to 85 or 95 percent of where they would be this time last year,” MacIsaac said.

“But we’re still missing the big events that use a lot of french fries — hockey games, ball games, conventions and those kinds of things.”

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