Canada’s potato shortage does not bode well for chip lovers

Potatoes in a sac Photo by Val_R/Shutterstock

If your drives to and from the cottage involve a stop at a roadside chip truck—and if your cottage larder is incomplete without every known variety of potato chip, up to and including artisanal tandoori-flavoured ripple—you may want to brace yourself for fried and kettle-cooked supply and sticker shocks in 2019. That’s because Canada’s 2018 potato harvest was a stinker in most parts of the country.

Rainfall, cold, and snowstorms made a mess of the end-of-season haul in most provinces, according to the final harvest update issued by the United Potato Growers of Canada (UPGC).

Atlantic Canada

In P.E.I., high rain, unseasonable cold, and a final indignity of two unseasonably early snowstorms left about 6,800 acres unharvested. Numbers weren’t offered for Nova Scotia, but it was one environmental headache after another, beginning with an early frost in the spring and ending with a monsoon of rains at harvest time.

New Brunswick faired better, only leaving about 500 to 1,500 acres unharvested.

Quebec & Ontario

Moving west, the bad news kept rolling in. Potato farmers had to abandon almost 2,000 acres in Quebec.

Ontario got in most of the crop, but there wasn’t as much crop as in previous years.

Alberta & British Columbia

Manitoba abandoned 5,200 acres. Saskatchewan was horrible, as severe cold stopped the harvest when only about a third of it was in.

In Alberta, about 500 acres were abandoned. The only good news was in B.C., where UPGC says yields were better than last year, with good quality.

So what will this mean for consumers? For starters, keep in mind that we eat a lot of potatoes, in a lot of different ways.

Kevin MacIsaac, the general manager of UPGA, says potatoes are the number two fresh vegetable in retail value (after tomatoes) for grocery stores. They’re also one of the lowest-cost vegetables by weight (after carrots, cabbage, and celery), so there is a bit of room for a price increase. MacIsaac expects that shortages mean “there will be some prioritizing of customers.”

The big ones, those that locked in their supplies with contracts a year ago, will be the least affected. For the munchies sector, that may be good news, because in Ontario, for example, potato chip makers swallow half the crop.

While it’s still hard to predict, the sector that may suffer is the chip truck vendors. They’re small-potatoes customers who get their supply from local vendors and are down the food chain in the spud business.

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