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Potato production expected to be down in western P.E.I

Alec Horne performs maintenance on a four-row potato harvester Blair R. Horne and Sons recently acquired. The Bloomfield potato grower hopes to get started with the harvest next week.
Alec Horne performs maintenance on a four-row potato harvester Blair R. Horne and Sons recently acquired. The Bloomfield potato grower hopes to get started with the harvest next week.

BLOOMFIELD -- The general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board is anticipating this year’s potato harvest to ramp up next week. Greg Donald said the harvest has barely started with a limited supply to fresh pack, chip plant and process markets so far, but that’ s about to change.

He’s anticipating a few more growers getting into their fields this Friday and Saturday, just to test out their equipment, before getting into full harvest mode next week. With the harvest ramping up, the Potato Board put out a notice Thursday urging motorists to be alert for slow-moving farm vehicles, including harvesting equipment and trucks, on Island roadways.

Prince Edward Island family farms, the board notes, produce as much as 25 per cent of the Canadian potato crop. The Island’s potato industry creates an economic impact of an estimated $1.065 billion, the board notes, and employs, directly or indirectly, 12 per cent of the Island’s workforce.

Alec Horne considers the next step as he performs routine maintenance in preparation for the start of the potato harvest.

And for those who are in the fields already, Donald said they had to pull out on Tuesday and last Saturday because it was just too warm. Harvesting in those conditions, he said, can cause storage problems. As well, when he soil is dry it does not go up the digger beds and the spuds being harvested become more susceptible to bruising.  

Rain on Wednesday helped improve the moisture situations in some parts of the province, especially in the central section where upwards to 70 mm of precipitation fell.

The potato crop in most areas of the province were impacted by dry conditions throughout July, and those conditions persisted in August, especially in western P.E.I., he said.

Donald said Eastern P.E.I., and some parts of central P.E.I. fared better in the rainfall department during the summer heat wave. As a result, he is expecting an average crop in eastern P.E.I. and a below average production in western P.E.I. and on some central P.E.I. farms.   Just how much of an impact the weather has had won’t be known until the harvest is well underway. He said the recent rain will benefit russets and other late varieties that still have an opportunity to bulk up.

Bloomfield grower Blair Horne had his crew working on equipment on Thursday in preparation for getting going with the harvest next week. Despite the dry conditions, he is expecting an average yield in most of his fields.

Donald said production is expected to be down pretty well right across North Amerca. He said the hot summer impacted yields in places like Idaho, which grows almost as many acres of potatoes as all of Canada. Acreage was also cut in that market, he noted.

With the North American supply expected to be down in comparison to 2016 levels,  Donald said the impact on the marketplace is already becoming clear. “Demand, early out of the gate here, is good, and prices are very similar to where they were at the same time last year, he reported. 

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