2015 will go down in the books as a record year for potato production in Manitoba.
It was an almost charmed season for producers in the province, beginning with an early start to seeding, continuing with low pest pressures and good weather, and ending with excellent conditions for harvest.
According to Dan Sawatzky, manager of Keystone Potato Producers Association, acreage was up about 4,000 acres from last year, with 67,327 acres planted in Manitoba.
“Average yield will set a Manitoba record at 315 hundredweight per acre, up from 300 in 2014 and 310 in 2013,” he says. “Supply should be balanced to supply the market with what it requires.”
Sawatzky says it was a relatively easy year in terms of production. “Conditions were pretty good this year.”
Vikram Bisht, potato and horticultural crops plant pathologist for Manitoba Agriculture, Foods and Rural Development, says there were a few recorded incidents of late blight in the province in early September that caused headaches for some growers and processors, but the main issue in terms of pest pressure was the unexpected appearance of European corn borer (ECB) in potato fields.
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ECB was a significant problem in corn in 2015, with levels higher than the past several years, and populations spilled over into potato fields in early to mid-July, causing some damage.
“By then, it was too late to apply any insecticide to manage,” says Bisht. “Once inside the stem, the larvae are not affected by foliar insecticides. In some fields there was significantly high number of plants with at least some ECB damage. This may have affected yields to some degree.”
Early blight also had some impact, says Sawatzky, but not enough to significantly impact yields. “We had growth right through to harvest. Even into the end of September, we still had plants that were green and growing,” says Sawatzky.
Conditions were fairly dry across the province, with occasional heavy rainfall events during the summer that leveled off during the fall. “I guess the latest area that had excess rain was toward the Eli area, so that kept fields wet there,” he says. “The Portage area was on the verge of being wet all the way through the growing season, with not much irrigation needed.”
One potential concern was unseasonable heat during harvest, which in combination with moisture can potentially lead to storage rot issues. “There’s a question there that growers can get their potatoes cool enough to prevent early spoilage, but we haven’t had that many wet conditions. There’s always potential for that, but this year it was not as great a concern as in previous years, despite the heat during harvest. Most guys will shut down if it gets too hot,” says Sawatzky. Heat caused only a brief stall in bulking in mid-August.
“Harvest actually wrapped up earlier than the last few years because conditions were very good as opposed to the last few years. Potatoes came out in good shape.”