Canada produced nearly five million metric tonnes (MT) of potatoes in 2006, as the 12th largest potato producer worldwide. The potato is a priority vegetable crop in Canada, accounting for 35 per cent of all vegetable farm cash receipts in 2006, according to Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada (AAFC) data.
In 2007, total production was estimated at 4.97 million MT, down two per cent on the 2006 crop. However, in 2006 production increased 14 per cent compared to 2005 and five per cent more than the previous five year average. Good weather conditions in most provinces saw yield increase by 13 per cent from 28.22 MT/ha in 2005 to 31.88 MT/ha in 2006 - a record yield.
Prince Edward Island (PEI) had the most concentrated production, at 26 per cent, followed by Manitoba's 20 per cent, Alberta's 17 per cent and New Brunswick at 16 per cent, as reported by AAFC. The Atlantic region represented 42 per cent of the total production, the Western region 41 per cent and the Central region 17 per cent. Most provinces excluding Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan experienced an increase in production.
Potatoes are PEI's primary cash crop and the processing industry uses about 50 per cent of the potatoes grown on the picturesque island. The annual farm gate value of potatoes produced in Manitoba is more than $50 million (€37m). New Brunswick has been exporting potatoes for over 100 years and currently ships to approximately 35 countries.
Total exports for fresh and processed potatoes for 2005-2006 were $859m (€647m), as reported in AAFC's Canadian Potato Situation and Trends 2006-2007. The export value of fresh and processed potatoes represented about 48 per cent of all exports of fresh and processed vegetables. The US is Canada's main export market. In 2006, Canada's exports of potatoes destined for further repackaging or processing represented over $96m (€61m).
Canadian farmers, excluding Quebec producers, reduced their 2008 area planted with potatoes by four per cent from last year according to Statistics Canada's Canadian Potato Production July 2008 Report.
The report shows Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador recorded no change, while the remaining provinces decreased their plantings. Alberta showed the greatest decrease, down eight per cent. British Columbia is down six per cent, Nova Scotia down four per cent. Remaining provinces are all down by three per cent. The high cost of inputs, the value of the Canadian dollar, uncertainty over processing contracts and the trend towards increasing yields all contributed to this area decrease.
The number of potato farms in Canada has decreased by six per cent over the last five years, and the area in production decreased four per cent, from 169,475 ha to 162,515 ha, according to the 2006 Census of Agriculture.
Canada has been a prominent leader in seed production for more than 85 years, with around 160 potato varieties registered for the production of seed. Main frying varieties include: Russet Burbank, Shepody, CalWhite and Umatilla Russet. Main chipping varieties include Atlantic, Kennebec, Ranger Russet and Snowden. Main table varieties include Goldrush, Yukon Gold, Superior, Norland among others.
Seed potato certification involves domestic seed certification and export phytosanitary certification. Both activities are national in scope in Canada and are administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a federal government agency reporting to AAFC. Main characteristics of the certification program are: disease-free nuclear seed, limited generations and disease and varietal purity standards.
During the 2005-2006 crop year seed export increased in volume by 11 per cent from 111,980 MT to 124,500 MT and in value by 35 per cent.
Canada has some advantages in relation to seed production. The northern vigour phenomenon has been scientifically proven: seed potatoes grown in northern latitudes produce high-yield, superior quality potatoes when planted in southern locations compared to seeds from southern latitudes.
The Canada-US Free Trade Agreement came into effect at the end of the 1980s, stimulating production. Annual production moved west, almost doubling from 2.88m MT in 1989 to 5.28m MT in 2003 and harvested land increased by 58 per cent. The Technical Arrangement Concerning Trade in Potatoes - a bilateral trade agreement between the two countries, effective from November 2007 - will continue to improve market access for producers and processors on both sides of the border. In addition to facilitating potato trade between Canada and the US, the arrangement will provide opportunities for the reduction of various compliance costs for industry.
Factors encouraging western expansion include a developing French fry sector, its proximity to North American markets for processed products. Availability of water and land in the Canadian Prairies as well as availability of capital required to invest in specialised machinery and storage facilities also encouraged expansion. Processing plants were built in PEI, Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta and growers increased their production to meet the demand for French fries and seed potatoes.
Growth of the Canadian potato industry is affected by the fluctuation of the Canadian dollar value versus the US dollar value.
Major expansion occurred between 1993 and 2002 when the Canadian dollar was lower. Then when the value of the Euro decreased at the end of that period, demand for potato products across North America was declining.
Key Technology's Tim Reardon says, "Beginning 10 years ago, the value of the US dollar had been increasing, making it more economical to produce potato products in Canada. The major North American processors were opening new plants and modernising existing plants in Canada to ramp up production.
"A year ago, that trend began to shift as the Canadian dollar grew stronger, making production in the US more economical. That shift, coupled with the ideal growing conditions in the Snake River Valley and Columbia Basin, driven by dry weather and irrigation that produces crops of a very consistent quality, caused North American potato processors to benefit from increasing production in the US."
The AAFC report confirms that a higher Canadian dollar has reduced the competitiveness in US markets and prompted fry processors to set up facilities in the US. The report says Canadian exports to the US represent 78 per cent of export volume, Japan five per cent, Mexico 3.4 per cent, Venezuela 1.8 per cent and China 1.8 per cent.
Canada's potato production and processing industries are currently worth $5.57 billion (€4.10bn) directly and indirectly to the economy. These sectors, which support a number of rural regions country-wide, employ 33,000 people.
Frozen French fry production was estimated at 1.325m MT in 2006, a three per cent decline over the previous year, according to the AAFC report. This reflects a reduction of contract volumes by processors, and is the second decline in production over the previous year, since expansion in the late 1980s. Fries were shipped to more than 64 countries worldwide. Canada's exports to the US totalled 57 per cent of total Canadian fry production: Canada's frozen fry imports (mostly from the US) increased by 14 per cent over 2004/2005, valued at $47.7m (€37.4m) according to the report. Canada also imported $67m (€52m) of other potato products during 2005/2006.
About 55 per cent of potatoes grown are used for processing, the majority of which are for French fry production, and 10 to 15 per cent for chips and dehydration. Canada has one potato starch plant based in Manitoba.
Reardon says a fast-growing trend in the US and more so in Canada is the growing popularity of skin-on potato products, which is fueling the replacement of monochromatic sorters that
cannot effectively inspect skin-on products with new colour sorters.
"Vis/IR cameras accurately identify green and blue defects and distinguish potato peel from brown defects: this improved capability allows sorters with Vis/IR cameras to detect and remove a wider range of defects on both peeled and skin-on potato strips, to maximise product quality," Reardon explains.
Key Technology introduced MantaTM, its highest volume sorter earlier this year and expects significant demand from North American potato processors.
"In addition to new sorters, the Canadian market has shown tremendous interest in Key's
G6 Upgrade Programme, which supports customers using a wide assortment of Key's legacy optical sorting systems and select non-Key brand sorters. By updating the electronics and optics in legacy sorters with Key's new G6 system, processors extend the life of their sorters and maximise their long-term return on investment," Reardon says.
McCain Foods is Canada's biggest food company and the largest global supplier of frozen French fries, with one in every three French fries sold worldwide being a McCain fry.
McCain Ltd global communications vice president, Susan Rogers, tells me the Canadian operation exports about two-thirds of what it produces each year, mostly to the US but also to distant shores, such as Japan. McCain is one of Canada's most successful multi-national corporations and, as a result, holds a place of pride among Canadians for the contribution the company has made to its country, communities and people.
"China and India represent the biggest growth opportunities for McCain Foods. As a more mature market, product innovation drives growth in Canada," Rogers says.
Florenceville, New Brunswick is home to McCain global headquarters and the Canadian division of McCain Foods. McCain Foods (Canada) also operates 13 processing facilities from coast to coast. McCain and its associated companies employ more than 4,000 people in Canada.
ConAgra Foods is a large global supplier of frozen potato products and in 1999 ConAgra Foods' Lamb Weston brand set up production from a new, high-tech processing plant in Alberta, Canada. Innovative Lamb Weston products such as My Fries®, Generation 7 Fries®, Stealth Fries® make the company a leading supplier to foodservice chains and distributors in more than 110 countries around the world.
AgraWest Investments Ltd operates a high volume, single line, dehydrated potato granules
flour processing facility in PEI. The company, with its sister company Idaho Pacific offers high quality potato granules and potato flour to meet specific demands through the incorporation of various processing techniques.
The PEI Food Technology Centre (FTC) was established in 1987 to provide technical support to the food processing industry, on a local, regional and international level. Last June, food scientists at the FTC worked with AgraWest Foods, to develop a high quality instant mashed potato mix made from dehydrated potato granules. Today, AgraWest supplies KFC with 200,000 kg of dehydrated mashed potato granules every month that are prepared in their restaurants by adding hot water. This product is a significant business for AgraWest which employs 100 people in Souris, PEI.
For 25 years, Cavendish Farms has produced frozen potato products for retail, restaurant and quick service markets throughout Canada, USA, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. The company has two production facilities on PEI, Canada, and one in North Dakota, US. Cavendish Farms is the fourth largest frozen potato processor in North America and all products are trans fat free.
Newcomer, The Covered Bridge Potato Chip Company, which will produce gourmet kettle chips, is on course to begin processing in November in Hartland, New Brunswick, Canada. The company has received finance from the Government of Canada and an investment through AAFC's Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Programme.