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Navigating new horizons: The Canadian potato industry’s outlook for 2024

In an era where agriculture continuously adapts to global trends and market demands, the Canadian Potato Summit stands as a pivotal event for industry professionals. It was here, amidst the verdant landscapes of Canada’s rich farming regions, that Victoria Stamper, the General Manager for the United Potato Growers of Canada (UPGC), offered a comprehensive and insightful presentation.

Ms. Stamper’s analysis, covering the 2023-24 crop year, delved deep into the heart of the Canadian potato industry, offering a clear, data-driven glimpse into its current state and future prospects.

Victoria Stamper

Her discourse traversed various key aspects: from the record-high potato stock and the shifting trends in production across the country’s diverse regions to the nuanced intricacies of global market dynamics and the specific challenges facing different sectors within the industry.

Victoria Stamper’s insights shed light on the implications of these factors not only for the upcoming crop year but also for the strategic direction of the industry in a broader context.

Below is a brief overview of some of the main points covered in Ms. Stamper’s presentation.

Record-High Potato Stock and Shifting Production Trends

Victoria Stamper’s report highlighted a significant milestone with a record 3.856 million tonnes of potatoes in storage across Canada in 2023, a 7.2% increase compared to the previous year. This surge in storage volume reflects an all-time high for the country.

Moreover, there has been a notable westward shift in production in the western region. The stocks in the eastern maritime region decreased by 13.5% to 1.223 million tonnes, while those in the central Prairie region saw a remarkable 28.4% increase to 1.970 million tonnes, indicating a regional rebalancing in potato production.

Surpassing Production Levels

The total potato production in Canada for 2023 was just over 128 million, marking a 3.7% increase from 2022 and setting a new record for the country. This increase is an indicator of a favorable growing season across the western region, combined with improved yields compared to the previous year​​.

Industry Overview and Sales Value

The Canadian potato industry is supported by 951 potato farms. In 2023, these farms produced a total of 128,114 ‘000 cwt of potatoes, contributing to a total sales value of over $1.5 billion CAD in 2022. These figures underscore the significant economic impact of the potato industry in Canada​​.

Yields and Acreage in Major Provinces

In terms of yield, the average potato yield in Canada in 2023 was 332 cwt per harvested acre. Major potato-growing provinces included PEI with 83,500 acres, Manitoba with 81,000 acres, and Alberta with 80,000 acres. Additionally, a total of 56,272 seed acres were certified in Canada in 2023, highlighting the importance of seed potato production​​.

Fresh Sector Dynamics

The fresh sector saw approximately 89,000 acres planted, with production slightly over 49,000 cwt. This sector is sensitive to market fluctuations, especially with surplus russets in the U.S. causing significant price drops. Canadian fresh potato exports to the U.S. are facing challenges, showing a decline in export volumes so far this season compared to the previous year​​.

Global Market Dynamics and Opportunities for Canadian Exporters

Victoria Stamper’s analysis highlighted a significant supply shortage in Europe, particularly of processing potatoes, leading to rising prices and reduced exports. This situation presents a strategic opportunity for Canadian growers, especially in exporting processed potatoes to European markets.

With Europe grappling with a million potatoes left unharvested, there is a demand gap that Canadian producers could potentially fill. This scenario underscores the need for Canadian growers to adapt to global market conditions, balancing domestic supply with international demand, and exploring new export markets​​.

Storage Concerns and Quality Management in the Processing Sector

Addressing the record levels of potato storage, Stamper expressed that there are concerns over the quantity of processing potatoes in storage. If the current pace of movement continues, these fresh potato stocks could be depleted in just under six months. However, the onset of colder weather poses risks to storage quality, as closed storages may lead to elevated CO2 levels, potentially affecting potato quality.

Ms. Stamper advised growers to closely monitor their storages to ensure the quality of their potatoes. This attention to storage conditions is crucial for maintaining the supply chain’s integrity and ensuring the quality of potatoes reaching the market​​.

Trends and Cost Pressures Across the Sector

The industry has observed a shift from red to yellow potato varieties in North America, a trend linked to improved yields and increased production. However, despite some cost components like fertilizer and fuel stabilizing, the overall cost of growing potatoes remains high. This increase in production costs is felt across the sector, including by seed growers.

These cost pressures underline the need for strategic planning and efficient resource management among Canadian potato growers to sustain profitability while ensuring quality and yield​​.

Processing Sector

In her presentation, Victoria Stamper provided insights into the processing sector, which estimated about 197,000 acres planted for frozen products and 43,200 acres for potato chips in 2023. The sector, however, is facing challenges due to an oversupply of russets, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, including Alberta and Manitoba. This surplus is partly attributed to processors contracting more acres than needed, based on shortages over the past two years.

Despite these challenges, the global demand for processed products like French fries continues to grow. The sector is now navigating these supply-demand imbalances and engaging in contract negotiations to align future production more closely with market needs​​.

Global Market Dynamics

Caribou Russets at Tupling Farms. Credit Victoria Stamper

The European shortage in potato supply, particularly in the processing sector, opens a window of opportunity for Canadian exporters. This situation underscores the importance of Canadian growers and processors in recognizing and adapting to global market trends.

By leveraging these international market gaps, particularly in Europe, Canadian potato producers have the chance to expand their reach, increase exports, and strengthen Canada’s position in the global potato market.

Storage and Quality Management

The record levels of potato storage, while initially promising, come with the need for diligent quality management. The potential risk to potato quality due to prolonged storage, especially under varying weather conditions, necessitates vigilant monitoring and strategic stock management. This aspect is critical not only for maintaining the quality and reputation of Canadian potatoes but also for ensuring that the industry can effectively meet both domestic and international demand.

Sector-Wide Trends and Cost Pressures

The shift towards yellow potato varieties reflects the industry’s response to market demands and evolving consumer preferences. However, this shift occurs amidst rising production costs, impacting all sectors, including seed growers. The industry must therefore balance innovation and adaptation with cost-effective practices to ensure sustainability and profitability.

Processing Sector Dynamics

The processing sector, a significant component of the industry, faces its unique set of challenges. Overproduction and contractual imbalances have led to an excess supply, particularly of russet varieties. This situation calls for a recalibration of production strategies and contract negotiations to better align supply with market demand, ensuring the sector’s stability and growth.

Overall, the Canadian potato industry stands at a crossroads, where strategic decisions made today will significantly impact its future trajectory. By addressing these challenges head-on and capitalizing on emerging opportunities, the industry can continue to thrive, adapt, and lead in the global potato market. As the industry navigates these complexities, the insights and data provided by Stamper and the UPGC will be instrumental in shaping the decisions and strategies of Canadian potato growers and processors in the upcoming crop year and beyond.

Victoria Stamper’s presentation at the Canadian Potato Summit offered a multifaceted view of the Canadian potato industry, drawing attention to both the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the 2023-24 crop year. Her insights into global market dynamics, storage and quality management, sector-wide trends, and the processing sector’s specific challenges provide valuable guidance for industry stakeholders.

Source: Victoria Stamper, General Manager for the United Potato Growers of Canada (UPGC)
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Cover image: Credit Victoria Stamper

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse

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