Last year we had a cool period after they were put in the ground and we ended up with a very nice-quality crop as well as good yields.”
– GARY SLOIK
Potato seeding in Manitoba, like most other crops, has been delayed by cool, wet conditions. But a bountiful harvest is still a possibility.
“We don’t like to plant in June because the yield potential is off a bit, but we have done it a number of years,” Gary Sloik, manager of the Keystone Potato Producers Association, said in an interview May 29. “It’s not drastic. It’s like every crop – the yield potential tends to be better when planted early.”
Last week about 75 per cent of Manitoba’s potato acres were planted, said Tom Gonsalves, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives’ (MAFRI), business development specialist for potatoes. Normally by the end of May potato planting would be done, he said.
Planting progress in western Manitoba was close to normal this spring, Sloik said. Last week planting was virtually complete in the Carberry area as well as around Treherne, Cypress River and Holland.
Seeding was continuing around Portage la Prairie, Carman, Rosetown and south of Winkler last week.
“There definitely will be some June plantings but it’s amazing with the amount of equipment they have and if they get some good days when the land is ready they can get them in fairly quick,” Sloik said.
Last week some earlier-seeded potato fields were just starting to emerge. Agronomists and farmers will soon be able to assess how much the cool, wet soils rotted potato pieces, hurting plant populations, said Tracy Shinners-Carnelley, MAFRI’s potato pest management specialist.
As of May 29 Shinners-Carnelley had not heard of any widespread seed mortality. Nor had Sloik.
“The acres that were ready to plant at that time (early May) are generally well drained,” he said. “Well-drained and cool (soil) isn’t a problem. If it’s wet and cool then it can be a problem, but those areas weren’t able to be planted early anyway.”
However, Sloik has heard of farmers complaining about poor-quality seed this year.
Gonsalves has heard complaints too. Processors require potato growers plant certified seed. If farmers think the seed meets the standard they should store it separately from other seed, document their complaint and take it up with the seed grower.
The upside of the late seeding is that processors are purchasing old-crop potatoes in anticipation of a later harvest of new-crop spuds, Sloik said.
Later in the growing season, processing potatoes can add three to five hundredweight a day to the yield. Leaving the crop in the ground another seven days can make up yield lost from delayed seeding. But Manitoba potato growers can delay harvest only so long due to the risk of frost. Most will start digging their Russet Burbank potatoes by no later than Sept. 20, Sloik said.
“We did not have a warm summer last year and yet it didn’t stress the crop,” he said. “Potatoes don’t like it too hot either. Last year we had a cool period after they were put in the ground and we ended up with a very nice-quality crop as well as good yields.”
But yield isn’t the only consideration; quality is just as important and that can be compromised if potatoes are not physiologically and chemically mature at harvest, Gonsalves said. When potatoes are immature at harvest their sugar content will be higher than desired resulting in a darker col-our when fried.
One way to encourage maturity, he said, is to reduce the amount of nitrogen applied to later-seeded potatoes.
Sloik said he expects Manitoba farmers to plant around 83,000 acres of processing potatoes this spring, which is similar to last year. Simplot has cut its 2009 delivery contracts with Manitoba farmers 15 per cent. But Sloik said because of delayed seeding farmers will plant more to be sure they grow enough potatoes to meet their contract. Tight Russet Burbank seed supplies are another sign acreage has held.
Last year only Prince Edward Island, at 93,000 acres of potatoes, surpassed Manitoba’s acreage. [email protected]