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Crop Update January 2024

After a tumultuous growing season for many regions due to weather, from drought-like conditions in the west to seemingly never-ending rain in the east, the potato crop was harvested well, with record production for the country of over 128 million.

The total Canadian potato storage holdings on Jan. 1, 2024 were up 7.2 per cent compared to January 2023, and are well above the five-year average. Quebec, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick are all showing lower stocks compared to January of last year, which may be a combination of good movement in December but also higher cull rates in certain varieties.

We can see the impact of a very good crop in the west, with Ontario to British Columbia showing much higher January stocks when compared to last year and their five-year average.

Slightly higher disappearance in Ontario and BC could not counter lower disappearance levels in the rest of the provinces. It is, however, important to remember that although disappearance may be lower in some areas, we are still setting records for total disappearance when we look back several years. With higher planted acres – particularly in the west – coupled with better yields, we see the impact of the increased production and storages seem to be holding well to date, despite concerns of the wet conditions in the east and higher than normal storage levels in the west.

Although storages are at record levels, if we continue the current pace of movement in the table sector, we could have stocks cleaned up in just shy of six months’ time. There is still concern about the high levels of processing potatoes, which may get reflected in planting intentions for 2024, as processors will be hesitant to take early harvest if stock levels remain high. It is important to note that experience shows quality in storages changes from now on with the onset of the frigid cold weather. With storages remaining closed for several days, CO2 levels can build up. It is advisable for growers to keep a close eye on their piles.

Fresh Sector

In total, based on Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) holding reports, Canada has 16.5 million hundredweight (cwt) of potatoes for the table sector in storage as of Jan. 1, which is 4.2 per cent below the amount in storage at the same time a year previous, but still higher than the five-year average. The majority of the fresh potatoes are grown in the eastern provinces where stocks fell by 811,000 sacks compared to last year. As was noted at the Canadian Potato Summit 2024 in January, even if we add in the table stocks of Manitoba and BC, two other strong fresh markets, overall stocks are still down slightly year over year. Despite an oversupply of potatoes in the Pacific Northwest, we can still see movement was good in the fresh sector for December; in fact, disappearance for fresh potatoes was up 27.8 per cent from a year ago. Table potatoes continue to be a good source of nutrition and value per dollar for consumers during continued food inflation.

Processing Sector

With excellent crops in the major processing sector markets of Alberta and Manitoba, coupled with oversupply south of the border, it is not a surprise that holding of potatoes destined for processing are up by 13.2 per cent, a 6.8 million cwt increase over last year and a record for Canada in this sector. Although the potatoes for frozen stock may be much higher, in areas like Ontario, the pace of movement for chip stock has actually increased. We continue to keep an eye on opportunities for export of frozen product to Europe, where it is estimated that just over a million cwt of potatoes were left in the ground due to dismal weather during harvest. There may also be some movement of potatoes from the west, as supply in the Atlantic Northeast is tight, due to losses at harvest and potential storage issues moving forward. With potential contract reductions in the spring, growers should have time to react and adjust planting intentions for this coming crop.

Seed Sector

Seed inventory on Jan. 1, 2024 was 10.1 million cwt, which is 3.8 per cent below 2022, and just slightly above the five-year average; this is perhaps not surprising if we look at certified acres planted in 2023. We can see that more than half of the major seed producing areas reported decreases in planted acreage in 2023, compared to the year prior; in fact, certified acres in Canada are at their lowest level since 2018. With stocks down in all provinces except Ontario and PEI, there may be regional and/or varietal shortages in seed that were seen last year. In PEI, where seed is currently grown for domestic use, it is interesting to note that since 2020, acreage for Mountain Gem has almost tripled and acreage for Burbanks has reduced by almost half.

In the next largest seed area of Alberta, the top three varieties based on accepted acres are dominated by the russet varieties of Burbank, Ranger and Norkatoh, consistent with the overwhelming focus on processing potatoes in the province.

Victoria Stamper is the general manager of United Potato Growers of Canada.

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