Spud-acular harvest leaves potato growers smiling

·3 min read

As the potato harvest around Alberta comes to a close, the abnormal growing season has resulted in a smaller and lower quality crop for most varieties of potato, said Terence Hochstein, executive director for the Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA).

In hopes of harvesting a larger and better crop, parts of the harvest were delayed, said Hochstien, a risk that was fortunately rewarded.

“Considering the time of year, we've been very lucky. Normally at this time of year, we’ve already had snow and some killing frost,” said Hochstien. “So we're very fortunate to have the good weather that we've had this fall. But our yields are going to be off with the hot June and July, even though we do have irrigation here in the south. The rest of the provinces are not irrigated. So the lack of rain and the extreme heat has put a damper on our crop this year. Our quality and quantity will be down somewhat, we're going to be a below average crop.”

A total of 67,500 acres of crop were planted in Alberta this year, with 50,000 acres in processing potatoes for chips and french fries, 12,500 acres of seed potatoes, and 5000 acres of fresh potatoes.

While exact average yields are difficult to quantify in a single number due to the sheer amount of variety within the overall crop, Hochstien predicts this year’s yield will be down about 10–15% from previous years.

“Our crops started off very, very good,” said Hochstien, “But from the 22nd of June on till about the middle of July. That extreme heat that happened all the way across western North America absolutely decimated our crop. Normally that heat comes mid July so we've come that two to three weeks earlier this year. Normally by the first of July our rows are all closed in like the plants have grown over so you've got good ground cover, but that heat hit before we had ground cover this year and it just destroyed everything. The first set of tubers, a lot of the plants the plant aborted them. They dropped their first set so they basically had to start over again.”

Reports over the growing season included copious growth in the tops of the plants, including abnormal eight foot spines, said Hochstien.

Not all of the crop is fairing poorly, however. After taking a hit to the planted acres in 2019 due to COVID, Alberta has regained and in some cases exceeded the average amount of acres planted this year.

“Some guys did all right. Our chip crop did pretty good. Some of our best chip crop we've had in years but the fry varieties did not do as well,” said Hochstien. This is just due to the heat tolerance of different varieties of potato.

“This year, our acres came back and actually grew. So the processors and the industry were optimistic and so we gained acres back,” said Hochstien. “This is our 21 crop, or 2020 crop we were cut back quite a bit but this year we gained most of the acres back and in some cases we exceeded. This is the largest crop acre wise that we've ever planted in Alberta.”

Anna Smith, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prairie Post East

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