Hard-pressed Manitoba potato growers are hoping for a normal crop this year after three consecutive years of adverse weather, unharvested acres, lower-than-expected yields and now the pandemic. Moderate optimism would be the best way to describe growers’ mood as they prepare for 2021 amid weather and market conditions largely beyond their control.
Dan Sawatzky, general manager of Keystone Potato Producers Association: “You have to be resilient to be a potato grower. You have to be optimistic or you wouldn’t be in the business. But with three [challenging] years back to back, the mood is — what’s the right word — certainly not as optimistic. Maybe cautiously optimistic going into this year. Maybe somewhat subdued as well.”
According to Sawatzky, Manitoba processors were forced to import potatoes since 2018 to make up for shortfalls. As of this spring, seed potato supplies were ‘very tight’.
Also this spring, the soil in parts of agro-Manitoba was very dry after a winter with limited snowfall and sparse spring run-off. Water levels in surface reservoirs were very low in March, making supplies look “rather bleak” without spring rains, Sawatzky said. As if this isn’t enough, the current pandemic threw a wrench into potato markets in 2020 after fast-food restaurants were forced to close their eat-in spaces and only drive-through orders were allowed.