Norfolk Potato Production
Norfolk County has the justifiable reputation as “Ontario’s Garden.” The diversity of fruit and vegetables grown locally is truly impressive.
Potato production, however, has largely gone unnoticed although the large acreage crop was one of the first to take advantage of the land base freed up by decline of the tobacco growing industry.
According to Kevin Brubaker, general manager of the Ontario Potato Board, 20 to 25 producers grow about 4,000 acres in Norfolk, making it one of the most productive potato growing areas in the province.
“The sandy soils in the area contribute to these growers producing some of the highest quality potatoes in the province,” he said.
In addition, local growers produce some of the earliest potatoes to go to market.
“Without the growers in this area, supply of Ontario fresh market potatoes throughout July and August would be limited,” Brubaker said.
Typically, growers begin harvest in mid-July and market the crop through October. Production is mostly round white, yellow and red varieties for the fresh and process (chip) markets. Most of the product is for retail sales within Ontario, although some growers ship to the United States.
Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers based in Prince Edward Island and separate from the Ontario Potato Board, said they were formed in 2006 to match supply and demand for growers across Canada.
MacIsaac said 2020 potato plantings in Ontario amounted to 36,500 acres, up 7.3 percent from last year. According to the most recent Statistics Canada survey, total acreage across Canada is 363,370 acres. Potato production in Ontario was up 12.1 per cent.
MacIssac attributed the increased production of 12.1 per cent in Ontario this year to increased demand for chip potatoes.
“People are buying more comfort food during the pandemic,” he said.
He added consumption of table potatoes is up as people are staying home during the pandemic rather than eating out.
Ontario potato production is almost equally split between table potatoes and the chip market.
Labour is important but growers are mechanized for planting and harvesting. MacIsaac added that potato growing requires good management in terms of disease and pest control.
A potato research program at the University of Guelph is currently is undertaking a project at their Simcoe Research Station to reduce the severity of PED (potato early dying) and increase potato productivity and profitability in Canada.
Vanessa Currie and project leader Dr. Katerina Jordan report that the first year of the three-year study had limited success due to delays caused by COVID-19 restrictions in the spring. The study is looking at the effects of different soil treatments.
“We expect to have valuable results in the coming seasons and look forward to sharing them with the industry,” Currie said.
MacIsaac said a new market has developed for early small potatoes.
Traditionally, growers look for potatoes of about two inches.
Smaller potatoes were usually discarded. But now there is a demand for small unpeeled “petite” potatoes sold at a premium price.
“In a year with difficult circumstances to gather data as a result of COVID-19, the diligence of both Statistics Canada to conduct the (potato) survey and the growers who took the time to respond to it is very much appreciated,” MacIsaac said.