by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Ontario’s potato fields contained bumper yields in 2009 but a poorer quality crop means processors and retailers will run out of locally grown spuds earlier than normal.
Kevin Marcoux, field man with the Ontario Potato Board, says weather conditions, which included cooler-than-normal temperatures, meant that the crop did not mature fully: “It’s nothing you can chalk up to management.”
Ontario is not the only area affected. “It’s an Eastern Canadian problem, if not a Canadian problem this year,” Marcoux says, noting that Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are dealing with the same problems.
For the province’s processing chip processors, main issues are colour and physical quality. Potatoes destined for potato chips (known as “chipping potatoes”), are judged by their colour, oil content, flavour and uniformity. Higher sugar levels can discolour the chips.
In the fresh market physical quality issues predominate, he says.
Marcoux says he could not estimate how much of the crop is lost at this point. “We are working through it.”
The majority of the culled potatoes will end up going to the livestock industry.
Processors will likely have to import new product from the southern United States ahead of schedule to make up the difference and local product will disappear from grocery shelves earlier in June than usual, he says.
Marcoux says the problem won’t affect price negotiations with processors that are underway for the 2010 crop. Those negotiations are expected to wrap up mid-month.
According to a January Statistics Canada report, Ontario’s 150 potato growers harvested 36,400 acres of potatoes in 2009 with an average yield of 215 hundredweight per acre.
In Canada, the total area harvested in 2009 was 361,600 acres, down three per cent from 2008. The national crop, weighing in at 4,581,224 tonnes, had dropped two per cent from the year before. BF