It’s too early to make definitive statements about potato acreage in Manitoba in 2015, but Keystone Potato Producers Association manager Dan Sawatzky expects that if anything, it may go up slightly. “I think we’re pretty confident that we can say that,” he says.
In 2014, Manitoba acreage totalled 63,340 acres, of which 45,000 were processing, 7,600 were seed and 10,740 were fresh and miscellaneous. Total Manitoba production in 2014 was estimated at 19.24 million hundredweight.
Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada, says Canadian potato acreage was down 2.2 per cent in 2014, with the biggest reduction in Manitoba, which was down 7,000 acres.
As of February, storage holdings in Western Canada were down 5.6 per cent compared to a year earlier. “The lower stocks on hand are led by Manitoba,” MacIsaac says. “Fry companies reduced contract volume last year in that province and growers did the right thing by not planting potatoes in excess of their contract volume.”
On the fresh side, prices are very good in Western Canada and available supply is moving down. “Producers expect they may run out a little earlier than predicted,” MacIsaac says.
In Eastern Canada, fresh prices may be a little higher. “The Grower Return Index is running around $8.84, which is below last year. Although holdings for fresh potatoes are higher in Eastern Canada this year, many packers ran out early last year, so this should extend the marketing season.”
Numbers are not confirmed, but Sawatzky says he has heard that Simplot and Cavendish are both looking to put some additional volume into Manitoba in 2015. “I think things are a little more optimistic as far as volume goes,” he says. “I think the exchange is one of the factors that’s helping us to become more competitive and bring more volume back here.”
Sawatzky says demand for processing potatoes is stable to up slightly in North America, but one major challenge that confronted the industry this winter was the longshoreman’s work slowdown at West Coast ports. “It’s really disrupted export shipments,” says Sawatzky. “In Japan some of the companies were airlifting fries in to supply the markets.” A 20 per cent increase in the European crop last year also meant that Europe could supply some of the markets shorted from North America.
Yields in Manitoba have typically averaged in the 280-hundredweight-per-acre range over the last few years, Sawatzky says, with 2013 yields in the range of 310 hundredweight per acre and 2014 yields at around 305 hundredweight per acre. He believes yields in 2015 will be fairly similar to last year.