Prairie potato planting slightly behind schedule

Seed potatoes loaded for planting. (File photo by Ralph Pearce)

CNS Canada — After a delayed start due to the long winter and spring flooding, western Canadian potato growers are out in the fields.

“We’re probably only a couple of days behind… we had farmers out on the fields last week and I think quite a few more will be moving along this week,” said Dan Sawatzky, manager of Manitoba’s Keystone Potato Producers Association.

Usually Manitoba potato producers have most of the crop planted by the first week of May. Field conditions are drier this season than in years past, but following a long, cold winter, frost is still in the ground, which has delayed planting.

In Alberta, where localized flooding has hindered spring seeding, potato producers were able to get out into the fields starting Friday.

“It’s wet so we’re having to pick and choose our fields, go around the wet spots. It’s just the start… a lot of the growers are waiting for ground to dry out, but we’ll keep plugging away,” said Terence Hochstein, executive director of Potato Growers of Alberta.

Potato prices are increasing this year, as global and domestic demand for frozen products has rose. Potato crops are grown based on contracts and, according to Hochstein, Alberta potato contracts have increased by four per cent in value this year.

In Manitoba, contract volume size has increased, according to Sawatzky. Contracts haven’t been signed yet but both J.R. Simplot and McCain Foods have released volume numbers which are above last year’s.

Next year, Manitoba potato acres will see a larger increase, due to increased processing capacity. Simplot in February announced an expansion of its Portage la Prairie plant, due to come online in December 2019.

“We do have a few growers or a few farms considering (starting to grow potatoes). Whether that’ll develop into them actually entering into the business next year I’m not certain,” Sawatzky said, adding some growers exited the industry this past year.

In Alberta, acreage will also increase next year. Cavendish Farms is now building a new plant in Lethbridge, which will come online in fall 2019.

Last year saw a poor potato crop for Alberta due to hot, dry weather. In Manitoba, the story was the opposite, with a good crop due to excellent growing conditions and a frost-free fall, according to Sawatsky.

“We had a little bit of rain during harvest, which delayed harvest a bit but I think that also contributed to a little bit of additional volume in the end. We had another record-setting year last year,” he said.

Potatoes prefer temperatures below 30 C during the growing season and for soil temperatures to be 10 C or warmer for seeding. Potato crops are watered through irrigation, so most weather risks are mitigated due to tile drainage.

— Ashley Robinson writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Glacier FarmMedia company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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