Alberta potato growers are banking on a healthy harvest after COVID-19 decimated their supply system this spring.
Russell Van Boom, a seed potato farmer near Fort Saskatchewan in Canada’s Alberta province, said he planted 90 per cent of his crops this year compared to last. He was anticipating slower demand come harvest time after processing plants and restaurants were temporarily closed or operating at reduced capacity to comply with health orders, reports Dylan Short for the Edmonton Journal.
“Many of the seed farms have been left with a whole bunch of extra seed and product and we’re in the middle of dumping those out in our field to be buried next week,” he said in mid-June.
For Van Boom, who sells seed potatoes to potato growers, the provincial relaunch came too late to adjust how much product he could plant.
“We’re going to harvest what we harvest and that’s the case for both types of farmers, for seed farmers like us and for commercial farms that grow either for french fries or for fresh potatoes that you’d buy at a grocery store,” he said.
Terrence Hochstein, executive director of Potato Growers of Alberta, said the pandemic has cost seed potato farmers in the province between $4.5 million and $5 million in lost revenue. Alberta’s processing industry in terms of french fry production has decreased about 20 per cent this season compared to last, or approximately 7,500 acres.
In April, the hit to the french fry market was closer to 80 per cent while restaurants were forced to shut their doors. That decrease saw the industry urge Canadians to eat french fries at home to stop potatoes from going to waste.
Hochstein said seed growers like Van Boom had to make a calculation of how hard they would get hit and plant accordingly.
Industry leaders now believe the province’s food systems could help the economy bounce back faster than other industries, such as tourism and oil and gas.