Bud the Spud will soon see less of Prince Edward Island’s bright-red mud and more of Manitoba’s sandy loam.
The Keystone province is set to overtake the “Garden of the Gulf” as Canada’s biggest potato producer.
Last February J.R. Simplot announced it was doubling the size of its potato-processing plant in Portage la Prairie. The $460-million expansion, which will create 100 new jobs, will require Manitoba farmers to annually grow around 16,000 more acres of potatoes, Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler said during a speech here Jan. 22 at Ag Days.
“Move over P.E.I., the additional potato production will see Manitoba become the largest producer of potatoes in Canada,” Eichler said, sparking applause.
In November McCain Foods announced $75 million in investments to boost efficiency at its plants in Portage la Prairie and Carberry, he added.
“Reinvestment in these two plants is a clear signal that the company continues to see opportunities and profitability in Manitoba,” Eichler said.
The Simplot expansion will add about six million hundredweight (cwt) in processing capacity, bringing Manitoba’s total annual processing and table potato production goal to around 28 million cwt a year, Keystone Potato Growers Association manager Dan Sawatzky said in an interview Jan. 25.
Traditionally Prince Edward Island produces around 25 million cwt.
Alberta produces around 20 million cwt, although it surged in 2018 to 22.34 cwt, according to Statistics Canada.
P.E.I. produced 22.6 million cwt in 2018, slightly exceeding Manitoba’s 20.3 million cwt.
Manitoba typically produces around 22 million cwt, but in 2018, 5,200 acres of spuds went unharvested, Sawatzky said.
The 16,000 or so acres of additional potatoes Simplot needs is expected to only bring in a couple of new potato growers. Most of the production will be picked up by established producers, Sawatzky said.
The main reason is the high cost of getting into potato production. Farming is capital intensive, but producing potatoes requires even more money.
Land is more expensive, special equipment and storage facilities are required, but the biggest cost is irrigation — building a reservoir and installing a pivot.
Manitoba has been second in potato production behind P.E.I. for years. It’s possible the honour of being Canada’s biggest potato producer may bounce around, depending on yields, Sawatzky agreed.
The federal and provincial governments along with farmers and processors already co-operate on potato research, but with Manitoba soon to be the top producer, Sawatzky said he hopes Ottawa will contribute more locally to potato research.
The expanded Simplot plant is expected to be receiving potatoes starting this September, Eichler said, “… with the intent of being in full production by January 2020.”