Potato prices rising in the wake of poor harvests

Cold, wet fall weather in the western North America this fall is already driving up the price of fresh potatoes.

Manitoba and Alberta had difficult harvests. In Idaho winter arrived suddenly with a blizzard on Oct. 8, and farmers could not harvest about 20 per cent of their crop.

Conditions were not ideal on P.E.I., Canada's largest potato grower, but were much better than last fall when bad weather forced farmers to leave 2,700 hectares in the ground.

This year about 400 hectares, one to two per cent, were left behind.

Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada, said the limited supply from the west is already having an impact on prices.

"We are seeing increases now, and will continue to see some in terms of the fresh potatoes, the table potatoes that you would buy in the grocery store," said McIsaac.

"They are totally based on supply and demand basically. When you have a reduction in supply, certainly that will move your price up if demand stays the same."

Trying to meet demand

Greg Donald of the P.E.I. Potato Board said many Island farmers grow on contract, with prices set in the spring, so they won't benefit from price increases immediately. The wet conditions can also make the harvest more expensive.

And Donald is concerned in the long term about the effects of a shortage when demand for potatoes is on an upswing.

Brian McInnis/CBC

"You don't like to not meet a customers' needs," he said.

"Could they get that product from somewhere else, and then also alternative products as well, whether it's rice or pasta or another product."

MacIsaac said because most growers producing potatoes for french fries and other processed foods grow under contract, higher prices in that sector will take longer to work through the system.

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