Western Canada takes over country’s potato production

On the Prairies, growers had a relatively easy harvest and produced average to above average yields this year. | File photo

A massive yield gap of 100 to 150 hundredweight per acre has developed between the Maritimes and Western Canada

Manitoba and Alberta were the number one and two potato-producing provinces in 2020, thanks in large part to hot weather and poor yields in Prince Edward Island.

Statistics Canada data, released in early December, said nationwide potato production was 104.2 million hundredweight, down 1.3 percent from 2019.

However, the data also shows a massive yield gap of 100 to 150 cwt. per acre between the Maritimes and Western Canada.

On the Prairies, growers had a relatively easy harvest and produced average to above average yields this year.

In the Maritimes, yields were horrible and production dropped 14 to 30 percent.

Growers in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick averaged 250 cwt. and 237 cwt. per acre, respectively. That’s well below historical averages of 290 and 305 cwt. for the two provinces.

Hot and dry conditions hit potato growers hard In P.E.I. and New Brunswick, who grow spuds without irrigation. In late August, CTV News reported that some parts of P.E.I. received 15 percent of normal rainfall this summer.

Total production in Manitoba was 24 million cwt., up nearly 22 percent from 2019. The average yield in Manitoba was 337 cwt. per acre, down a bit because of hot and dry conditions.

However, digging up potatoes was easy compared to 2019, when Manitoba growers were unable to harvest thousands of acres because of incessant rains, a 25 to 50 centimetre snowfall in early October and frost.

Alberta growers produced an average yield of 404 cwt. per acre and increased production by 7.8 percent. Yields were higher than 2019, but 404 cwt. per acre is similar to Alberta yields from 2017 and 2018.

The increased production should reduce the need to import potatoes into Manitoba. In the last couple of years, french fry plants in Portage la Prairie and Carberry brought in spuds from the United States and Alberta to make up for a shortage of processing potatoes.

Western Canada’s status as the largest potato-producing region in Canada could be permanent. The yield gap between the West and the Maritimes has expanded in the last five to 10 years.

From 2010-20, average yields in Alberta have increased to 400 cwt. per acre from 320. In Manitoba, yields have risen to 345 cwt. per acre from 280 cwt.

Meanwhile, P.E.I. yields have been stagnant, stuck at 290 cwt.

Farmers in Manitoba and Alberta have access to irrigation, while P.E.I. has banned high-capacity agricultural wells.

“The difference in productivity … between P.E.I .and (western) provinces is water, and the lack of ability of farmers to access water here on P.E.I.,” Greg Donald executive director of the P.E.I. Potato Board, told the CBC.

“The viability of many farms, and sustainability, is in question because of the lack of access to water.”

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