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Frost ends Manitoba potato harvest

'Two bad years in a row hurts,' says potato growers association manager

Frost last week ended Manitoba’s potato harvest, leaving thousands of acres undug.

It’s the second year wet soils prevented potato farmers from getting all the crop off before heavy frost ruined it.

And while the final figures aren’t in, an estimated 12,000 acres of potatoes worth more than $50 million, didn’t get dug, says Dan Sawatzky, manager of the Keystone Potato Growers Association (KPGA), which represents the province’s 52 processing potato growers.

“Last year we talked about it being unprecedented, well this year is that much worse from what we see currently,” Sawatzky said in an interview Oct. 25, following the Keystone Agricultural Producers advisory council meeting in Brandon. Last fall 5,200 acres went unharvested.

He told the meeting about 70 per cent of the potato crop was harvested, leaving an estimated 15,000 acres unharvested.

More potatoes were harvested from Oct. 25 to Oct. 27, resulting in his revised 12,000-acre estimate, which will be further revised as additional reports come in.

By Oct. 31 an estimated 75 per cent of the crop was off.

Freezing temperatures around Carberry Oct. 23 damaged potatoes in that area, Sawatzky said.

Potato harvesting across the province ceased after cold temperature started late Oct. 27, and continued for several more days, he added.

Almost all seed and table potatoes were harvested.

Farmers are expecting storage problems this year, due to moisture stress, Sawatzky said.

While potato growers will take the biggest hit, Manitoba processors — Simplot and McCain Foods at Portage la Prairie and McCain Foods at Carberry — will suffer too, Sawatzky said.

Unlike last year it doesn’t appear Manitoba plants will be able to bring in surplus potatoes from Idaho to make up for losses here, he said.

Perhaps processors will upgrade their facilities, if they can’t run at full capacity, he added.

Two bad years in a row hurts, Sawatzky said.

Based on an estimated gross return of $4,000 an acre, unharvested and unusable potatoes from 2018 cost farmers around $36.8 million, he said.

So far potato growers have only received around $5 million in compensation through crop insurance.

“We ended up about 3.9 million hundredweight short of our contracted volume last year,” which represents 24 per cent of what was contracted, Sawatzky said in an interview Oct. 4.

KPGA is in talks with the Manitoba government in an effort to trigger aid through AgriRecovery for 2018 losses.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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