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Prairie potato industry facing upset

Prairie potato industry facing upset

Manitoba and Alberta potato producers are changing their plans for the planting season due to market challenges

 
Staff Writer
Farms.com

After a tough harvest last year on the Prairies, potato producers now face the challenge of a changing market because of COVID-19.

“Some growers were able to harvest most of their crops, although with a lot of extra expense and struggle to get it off. Others were not able to harvest their crops. Some left 70 per cent of their crops in the ground,” said Dan Sawatzky, general manager for the Keystone Potato Producers Association.

A lot of producers in Manitoba were short of their contracts because of the tough fall. Now, new contracts for this year are affected by market conditions, said Sawatsky.

“Manitoba processing potatoes are under contract. The volumes of those contracts, which we just settled a few weeks ago, have been cut because processors won't require as much as they did last year,” Sawatzky told Farms.com.

Alberta producers are also facing challenges trying to sell their crops from 2019, said Terrence Hochstein, executive director of Potato Growers of Alberta.

“We are sitting on probably a third of our 2019 French fry crop yet. It needs to be processed, but the plants are down and the freezers are full across North America. We’re not sure where we're going to go with this raw product,” Hochstein told Farms.com.

Seed growers are also having trouble moving product, he said.

“The Alberta Seed Growers export 50 per cent of their seed to the U.S. and other province across Canada. A lot of those sales have fallen through the cracks because the 2020 acreage for processing potatoes has been cut dramatically,” he said.

As producers begin the 2020 planting season, Alberta producers will see 25 to 30 per cent of the potato acres left unseeded to this crop because of the reduced demand in the processing industry, said Hochstein.

As a result, producers are changing their rotation plans.

“We run a four- or five-year rotation. So, (producers) will put a different crop in, but they'll also extend their rotation by another year,” said Hochstein.

In southern Alberta, farmers plant a lot of specialty crops. So, the acres growers are not seeding to potatoes will be planted with other crops such as sugar beets or dry beans. Producers also plant canola and cereals in place of potatoes, said Hochstein.

Since the industry is being hit hard, like most industries across Canada, the hope is to get some support from the government, said Sawatzky.

“We are looking to governments for some type of diversion program or buyback. Something that would take some of the supply out of the marketplace so this industry can continue to be healthy,” he said. “It's a huge economic driver for our province. … We want to ensure this industry stays healthy and that jobs are protected.”

Although market conditions are tough right now, with the warmer weather across the Prairies, producers can get into the fields to start planting.

“We get the opportunity to continue to produce food to feed the world. We will get through this and we'll carry on,” said Hochstein.

VisionsbyAtlee/iStock/Getty Images Plus photo

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