Potato growers in PEI and the other parts of eastern Canada have been dealing with another cold and wet planting season, while their counterparts in the west are slightly behind compared to a normal year but are largely dealing with dry conditions.
That is the way the general manager of United Potato Growers of Canada summed up the situation following a conference call of Canadian potato growers May 28. Kevin MacIsaac estimated 10-15 per cent of the Island crop had been planted by that date.
"April on PEI was cold with above average rainfall while May saw more normal amounts of rainfall, however showers almost every second day has made it difficult for growers to get into the fields," he noted in a report to the industry.
He is predicting the crop in the nation's number one potato producing province will be close to last year. MacIsaac added "Pricing on old crop has been good with GRI’s at $20.90. Although demand is good, movement is down 11% below last year, given a smaller supply left to market."
Turning to New Brunswick, the United general manager said planting has been sporadic due to wet field conditions and cool soil temperatures and he estimated about a quarter of the acreage was in the ground by the end of last month.
"There is very little extra seed available for planting additional acreages and the industry will likely be dominated by processing as fryers attempt to increase grower volumes to feed market demand," he said. "Remaining old crop is spoken for, in both processing and fresh. There was some attempt to harvest potatoes that were not dug in the fall of 2018, with mixed results depending on where snowfall had accumulated for protection during winter."
Planting has also been delayed in Quebec with frost advisories issued on several nights. As of the conference call, 35-40% of the crop had been planted. MacIsaac explained the sandy soil in the Joliette region is 90% complete, however the Lac-St Jean area is only 15% planted.
"The delay in planting and emergence will make for a tight turn-around from old crop to new," he said. "Some shippers could be short without imported product. It has been a late shipping season for seed as well, with a small percentage left to go."
He explained Quebec does have seed of some varieties still available and the packer’s association has begun meeting with chain stores to discuss supply in the upcoming season.
Rain and cool soils have delayed planting in the Alliston and Shelburne area of Ontario with about 30% of the crop in the ground. The early planted area in the southern part of the province is done with some delays between start to finish.
As of the conference call, only 60% of the field fry contract had been planted and 20% of the storage crop seeded, and MacIsaac noted many processing growers were becoming a bit frustrated. While growers can make up time with today’s large planting equipment, he said there will likely be some gaps in product availability with delayed emergence in cooler soils. There has been no replanting to date and the old crop is becoming scarce.
Turning to Manitoba, the general manager said planting is finished with some emergence on the acres planted in late April. The tail end of planting became a bit delayed as seed of some varieties was running short and growers had to make alternate plans to finish up their acreages.
"Planting conditions were dry resulting in no seed piece decay," he explained. "Growth is probably a week behind same time last year and frost on the May 27 did not seem to affect emerged rotational crops like canola."
MacIsaac explained there has been very little rain this spring however there is good water supply in the reservoirs, and given cooler conditions, growers have not yet started to irrigate. The general manager noted "The growing season will need to go well in order for growers to meet the additional volume requirements for the Simplot expansion. Besides additional acres, growers have also moved up their anticipated target yields to cover the needed increase."
The cross-Canada report noted the processing crop in the southern part of Alberta is completely planted with many fields at ground crack. Some seed pieces have been in the ground for seven weeks with cold soils delaying emergence.
"The seed acreage in the northern region is approaching 85-90% completion, as is the table acreage," he went on to say. "Overall potato acreage is expected to increase by 6,600 acres to meet the needs of the Cavendish Farms expansion coming on this fall."
MacIsaac noted the province is very dry, at levels not seen since 2002-03. The traditional snow pack from Calgary south never really existed this year and irrigation allocation is on a 75% reduction for this season.
"Reducing water usage from 16 inches per year down to 12 inches/year will likely see growers move water from some of their rotational crops in order to provide potatoes with the moisture level they require," he explained.
Planting is essentially wrapped up in British Columbia with estimates at 90-95%. It has been a timely planting season with many growers finishing by May 15th. As is traditional, MacIsaac said there is still a bit of seed acreage to be planted.
"Growing conditions have been near perfect with timely rains and warm temperatures and there has been no seed piece decay and many fields are at emergence," he concluded. "The very earliest potatoes were planted on March 14th so some of those Warbas are being harvested green, however it will be June before any significant early volume is harvested."