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Canadian potato industry dealing with oversupply, innovation strategies

The Canadian Horticultural Council’s Potato Committee will be meeting during the CHC’s annual general meeting to be held in Ottawa March 12-15. Topics the committee will likely address during the annual meeting include regulatory and trade issues, plant health, research and food safety. Members of the committee and the chair of the Canadian Potato Council will also be appointed at the annual general meeting.

CPC is comprised of 16 elected provincial representatives and is responsible for implementing decisions of the CHC Potato Committee. There are 10 subcommittees and working groups 043Each year the farm gate value of potato crops in Canada exceeds $1 billion Canadian dollars ($998.6 million USD). (Photo courtesy of CHC)within CPC, including the Seed Potato Sub-Committee, Bacterial Ring Rot Working Group, Export Development Strategy Working Group, Quality Assurance Working Group, S. Cairns Chipping Potato Research Committee, On-Farm Food Safety Working Group, Phytosanitary Certificates, Potato Cyst Nematodes Taskforce and the Late Blight Working Group.

“There’s an oversupply this year of potatoes in North America,” said David Jones, manager, potato industry coordinator of CHC. “There are challenges where the extra supplies are going to go. Prices are down significantly.”

Mr. Jones, who has an agronomy background, has been in his role with CHC for a year, dealing mainly in regulatory affairs in crop protection for industry and government.

“There are lots of potatoes for the fresh market,” said Mr. Jones. The potato industry is busy in February and March negotiating contracts with processors.

“CHC’s involvement deals mainly with policy, trade and plant health related issues,” said Anne Fowlie, executive vice-president of CHC. “There is a lot of work on plant health issues as there are significant disease and pest issues around potatoes. We deal significantly with [the Canadian Food Inspection Agency].”

In late 2012, CPC released a national potato research and innovation strategy. The report was partially funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Agricultural Innovation Program. CHC and CPC held national consultations to support the development of the research and innovation strategy.

According to the report summary, the overall objective of the project was “to develop a national strategy for potatoes that will articulate the stakeholder priorities for research and innovation in the Canadian industry over the next 10-year period and provide guidance on addressing these priorities through new and existing collaborations.”

Key trends affecting the potato industry in Canada were identified in the report: declining potato consumption patterns, increasing regulatory burden, changing growing conditions, changing pest and disease profiles, increasing potato production challenges, challenge of knowledge transfer and the desire for a coherent national approach to research and extension. Six overarching priority areas were identified in the research and innovation strategy: variety development, pest and disease management, production management and agronomy, communication and research extension, market research and alternative uses for potatoes. The full report and in-depth analysis can be found on CHC’s website, hortcouncil.ca, on the CPC page.

Canadian potatoes by the numbers

$1 Billion Canadian dollars
According to Statistics Canada, the farm gate value of potato crops in Canada exceeds $1 billion Canadian dollars ($998.6 million USD) annually. This represents around 4.8 million tons of potatoes and 146,056 hectares (360,899 acres) in Canada. The crop is distributed throughout Canada with 37 percent in the Prairie provinces, 39 percent in the Atlantic Canada region, 22 percent in central Canada and 2 percent in British Columbia.

Fresh vs. Processing between provinces
According to the Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada Canada’s Potato Report 2010-11, potato production for fresh, processing and seed sector distribution vary greatly per province. In New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, the majority of production goes to the processing sector. In Quebec and British Columbia the reverse is true, with the bulk of production going to the fresh sector. Saskatchewan is the only province where the majority of production is slated for the seed sector.

Canada exports 1.25 million tons to the United States
Canada exported 1.25 million tons of fresh and processed potatoes to the United States, its most significant potato-export trading partner, for 2010-11, which is a value of $890 million Canadian dollars ($889 million USD). AAFC’s Canada’s Potato Market Intelligence Report 2012 said that fresh table potatoes exported to the United States accounted for 433,208 tons. Interestingly enough, fresh potatoes imported from the United States to Canada were pretty equivalent at 425,492 tons. According to the report, this quantity represents approximately 9 percent of the total of Canadian production of fresh potatoes.

22,500 hectares of seed potatoes exported to the United States
The United States is also Canada’s most significant trading partner for the export of seed potatoes with 22,500 hectares (55,600 acres) of seed potatoes entered with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for certification in 2011.