Just before the COVID-19 pandemic brought physical meetings to a standstill, the board of directors of United Potato Growers of Canada held a face-to-face meeting in Ottawa to review potato stocks and discuss the market situation across the country.
General Manager Kevin MacIsaac noted stocks nationally were down 1.9 per cent or one million hundredweight over the three-year average as of March 1. However, the former chair of the PEI Potato Board noted that Prince Edward Island holdings were up 3.9 per cent.
“Crop movement is up in Canada and the US but down in export markets,” he said. “Movement has picked up in the last few weeks with particularly good movement on large size profiles.
Mr MacIsaac said storability has been a concern since harvest. He noted french fry contract negotiations have started with growers laying out their position. Chip contracts are under discussion as well.
“For seed, post-harvest tests have been a little later coming back but even with 10 per cent more seed in storage than a year ago, supplies are expected to be tight, as some newer seed orders are being shipped to customers in Manitoba this year,” he said.
Mr MacIsaac said the 2020 planted acreage in Prince Edward Island is expected to be the same, around 85,500 acres, however it ultimately depends on the contract settlement and whether growers see increased value and return on their investment.
Turning to New Brunswick, he said holdings in all categories were 7.2 per cent below the three year average. Some sheds have been dealing with pink rot issues, but he noted demand has been heavy on the processing side with very few open potatoes available.
“Contract negotiations have started with one meeting with McCain Foods and one with Old Dutch. Growers have indicated to processors their cost of production has risen significantly since their last settlement and need to be recognized in this round,” Mr MacIsaac said.
On the fresh side, inventories on March 1 were 7.3 per cent below average. Seed movement has started, and quality is good with some of the lowest post-harvest virus tests out of the last 10 years.
On the processing side, Mr MacIsaac noted processors are trying to utilize every potato they can, to get as far into the season as possible. Processing holdings on March 1 were 15.5 per cent below average at 6.8 million hundred weight. Storage issues continue, particularly with those potatoes dug after the frost.
He added that even with these measures extensive downtime will be required by both fry plants bringing an early end to the processing season. Currently, eight to 10 loads of potatoes per day are being imported into the province from the United States. Contract negotiations have begun with a couple of meetings already held.
“With the new JR Simplot expansion, Manitoba will require an additional 5,000 acres of potatoes, which may be a struggle to get, even with creative incentives,” the United general manager said. “Some dry land acreage and pivot corners which were taken out back in 2006-07 may need to go back into production. There have only been three new grower entrants in the last two years as producers size up the increasing levels of risk.”
An additional 3,500 acres will need to be planted in Alberta this year to meet the needs of the Cavendish Farms’ expansion. Alberta’s seed crop grown on dry land, received just the right amount of rain last year, producing great yields.
A month ago, Alberta’s seed inventory was almost 21 per cent above their three-year average, however thanks to rapid movement, seed stocks on March 1 were only 0.8 per cent above average. In addition to increased demand, customers seem anxious to take their seed home earlier this year. Some growers also feel that seed supply seems a bit short in Alberta this year.