Manitoba’s potato harvest was expected to get underway this week amid hopes for a decent crop despite all kinds of disappointment this year.
Manitoba potato growers experienced slashed production contracts, torrential summer rains, plant disease and are now battling muddy fields.
Surprisingly, then, this year’s potato crop doesn’t look half bad, judging by early indications.
“It looks like a good average crop,” said Chad Berry, who farms at Glenboro.
The difficulty now is collecting potatoes from fields still wet from this summer’s heavy rains.
“It’ll be a challenging harvest for some guys because of the wet ground,” said Berry, who is also president of the Keystone Potato Producers Associat ion (KPPA).
Harvesting of earlier processing varieties such as Ranger and Umatilla began in mid-August. A number of Ranger fields were producing yields of 300 or more 100-pound bags per acre, while some Umatilla yields were topping 400 bags per acre, said Gary Sloik, KPPA general manager. The harvest for Russet Burbank potatoes was expected to get fully underway this week, weather permitting.
But yields are all over the map because of drowned-out crops and fields that had to be replanted and are now maturing late, Sloik said.
“There’ll be some very good yields but there’ll be some people that were hurt, too.”
Sloik estimates about five per cent of Manitoba’s 70,000 potato acres were lost to unseasonably heavy rain this year. The heaviest- hit areas were around Haywood, Carman and Winkler.
But most of Manitoba’s potatoes are grown on well-drained soil and escaped the worst of the flooding, said Sloik.
Flooded fields weren’t the only disaster to visit potato crops this year. Sloik said the appearance of late blight in June forced producers to spend “substantial money” on fungicides. While the wet summer reduced the need for irrigation, those savings were “not nearly as much as the extra blight spray cost.” The extent of disease damage to potatoes won’t be known until later, said Sloik.
“It’s when they break down in storage that losses occur,” he noted.
At present, cool weather is mitigating damage to stored potatoes. That’s a welcome change from last year when hot weather during the first two weeks of September caused potatoes to be harvested warm and raised fears of in-storage damage, Sloik said.
The early signs for good-quality potatoes are positive so far. Specific gravity and sizes are in the “very ideal” range.
Manitoba’s potato acreage took a sharp hit early this year when McCain Foods reduced its contracted volumes by 12.5 per cent. The Cavendish Farms processing plant in North Dakota also cut back contracted acres to Manitoba farmers.
Manitoba’s total potato production this year fell to roughly 70,000 acres (from 79,000 acres in 2009). Processing potatoes make up nearly 80 per cent of the potato acres in the province.
“There’llbesome verygoodyields butthere’llbe somepeoplethat werehurt,too.”
– GARY SLOIK, KPPA