October 25th, 2020

Potato growers concerned with 2020 harvest underway


By Jensen, Randy on August 19, 2020.

A crop of potatoes grows in the hot summer sun Tuesday in a field near Chin between Coaldale and Taber. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald

tkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

While the 2020 potato harvest is well underway in southern Alberta, the Potato Growers of Alberta say lingering concerns about global french fry markets due to COVID-19 is putting a bit of a damper on an otherwise joyful time of year for local potato farmers.

“The 2019 crop is now complete and done,” says PGA executive director Terence Hochstein. “It has been processed. And we are just starting here in the last couple weeks on the 2020 crop. But due to the COVID situation, not only here in Canada but also in the U.S. and globally, there is no guarantee what we put in the shed this year will be used completely.

“We are going to put it in the shed, and we’re going to harvest it,” he adds. “What becomes of the crop after? That is entirely dependent on the COVID situation. I think we are going to be alright, but there is no guarantee.”

Local potato processing plants either halted or drastically curtailed production on the 2019 harvest after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down restaurants all over the world, leaving few markets for selling frozen french fries.

With processors’ freezers full, and without other processing options, Hochstein told The Herald earlier this year he feared what remained of the 2019 potato crop in storage may have to be destroyed. Thankfully, says Hochstein, it largely never came to that after producers found a home for the crop in the fresh food and livestock feed markets.

“In the end, the processing crop in the province ended up getting utilized,” confirms Hochstein. “We exported some to other provinces, and we found a home. We were able to utilize the processors. But for some of the seed crop, it ended up being destroyed.”

Hochstein says it is too early to say what consequences the loss of the 2019 seed crop might have on longer-term potato production. However, he says all eyes are now on what might happen after the 2020 crop comes in.

“I am optimistic that the crop that is being harvested right now will be utilized,” he says. “I am also not naive enough to know it may not. After this past year, in the back of your mind you become gun-shy.”

According to what his growers are telling him, Hochstein says this year’s crop is certainly no bumper. But, he admits, most are just fine with that given the ongoing uncertainties in processing capacity in a still tumultuous global food economy.

“It’s just going to be an average crop, but average might be OK,” he states. “If the growers have an opportunity to harvest enough to meet their contracts this year, it might just be good enough.”

Meanwhile, a National Potato Day Drive-Thru is being planned for today as part of the Whoop-Up Days Drive-Thru Food Truck Festival. Gourmet style (twice baked) stuffed potatoes with a variety of toppings will be available for $4 each at the Potato Chuckwagon at Exhibition Park today from 4-7 p.m. Half of all net proceeds from potato and all Whoop-Up Days event sales this week will be donated to the Farm Credit Canada (FCC) Drive Away Hunger campaign supporting food banks throughout southern Alberta.

Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

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