Kevin MacIsaac

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A cold and wet spring has slowed potato planting in PEI.

The general manager of United Potato Growers of PEI estimated planting was only about a quarter complete as of May 27. Kevin MacIsaac said while there was a great deal of optimism in April as signs pointed to an early spring, poor planting weather in May has slowed down the process.

"Acreage could be up above last year, and it is hoped there will not be a drought again like last summer, which will enable at least average or better yields, to increase the overall production needed for existing markets," MacIsaac said. "The province is optimistic that market demand will be increasing this year and into the new year following recovery from COVID. Fresh inventory is low, with packers finishing up early, and/or managing their inventory according to their customer’s needs. Seed has also been extremely tight to plant this crop."

The general manager of the PEI Potato Board agreed with that assessment. Greg Donald added “Last year we had a wet first part of May and by the middle folks got on the land and they never stopped until they were done planting."

Donald said he is expecting approximately 84,000 acres will be planted this year. The general manager added “Farmers are optimistic about more certainty in the marketplace going forward with COVID. Hopefully things will start to be a little more predictable and we are going to see a stronger market looking ahead."

Paul MacAulay said early indications were they would be on the land before the end of April, but the first processing potatoes went in the ground around May 20. However, he expects his crop to be planted by early June.

“Back three or four weeks ago it was very dry and then we got hit with some rain which set back planting early,” said MacAulay, who owns MacAulay Farms Inc in partnership with his son Chris.

MacIsaac said PEI is lagging behind most of the country, with neighbouring New Brunswick almost 85 per cent complete by May 27. He said there has been some reduction in acres devoted to chip production, which has been converted in that province to french fry production to meet the needs for increased contract volume in that sector.

"Spring arrived early for most regions of Quebec providing nearly ideal planting conditions." the general manager said. "Planting is about 85% complete with the northern and eastern regions finishing up. A slight acreage increase is expected in the fresh and seed sectors while chips will likely remain flat." Processing acres for french fries will need to move up by 15% .Planting was approximately 90% complete in Ontario, with soil temperatures in the northern area ideal for planting although cooler for germination and growth. Growers in the south west started planting in mid-April, finishing up in mid-May with hardly any rain delays.

Turning to Manitoba, the general manager said planting of the processing crop was completed by mid-May. He added "soil conditions were extremely dry during planting, however some much needed rain of between 20 and 50mm fell over the potato growing region in late May. On the fresh side, planting went well, although similarly into very dry conditions. He added "Reservoirs in the area are mostly empty, although the region did receive an inch of rain last week. Yellow acres are unchanged with red acres down slightly."

Growers experienced an early spring in Saskatchewan and like other western areas planted into very dry conditions. The province usually plants around 6,000 acres.

"Many processing growers in the Taber region in Alberta finished up planting by mid-May," MacIsaac said. "Planting conditions were extremely dry although rainfall amounts of 15-18 mm were reported in the southern area in late May. Warm temperatures are providing good growth in the hills."

He added seed growers in the northern part of the province have about a week of planting left. Soil conditions have been better with good moisture carryover. MacIsaac went on to say "The province has been a bit long on seed, while table potatoes are almost all cleaned up. Overall acres in Alberta will need to increase as the province returns to 2019 levels."

British Columbia had cool but clear weather in April and May, allowing for early and steady planting. Most growers finished up by mid-May. The first early Warba’s were planted on March 3rd and came on the market on May 20th, although recent rains have hindered digging. He noted potato acreage in the province may increase slightly with some shift away from Warba and Chieftain varieties. Shipping of old crop has been steady with firm prices.

"British Columbia is one of the first provinces to roll out an operational plan post pandemic, and industry is looking forward to the expectation of greater levels of indoor dining within restaurants," he concluded.

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