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Canada - Potatoes left in field following poor autumn harvest conditions

Potato growers suffered major losses, and a lot of onions and carrots were never pulled from the ground this fall.

And some farmers are still out combining their corn and sunflowers over snow-covered fields.

But, by and large, cereal crops and most vegetables fared well despite a near-drought summer followed by a cold, wet fall.

“It just takes some patience this year,” provincial crop analyst Anastasia Kubinec said.

The hardest hit were potato growers who couldn’t harvest eight per cent of their crop. About 5,200 of 64,000 planted acres weren’t harvested because fields didn’t dry out. Portage la Prairie farmers were hard hit, with several losing half their potatoes.

“It’s an unprecedented figure,” Dan Sawatzky, general manager of the Keystone Potato Growers Association, said. “The potato producers association has been around for 50 years and never had to abandon that many acres.”

Potato growers started harvests in the second week of September, and that’s when the cold, damp weather moved in.

“You can’t dig potatoes when the soil’s too wet,” Sawatzky said. Then frost hit on Oct. 11 and the season was over.

Yields were averaging the third-best on record for what was harvested.

“It’s a huge impact. It could set some farms back four to five years as far as their ability to expand,” Sawatzky said.

About 55 farms grow potatoes in Manitoba. Not all producers have crop insurance. But coverage levels range from 50 to 80 per cent, minus 15 per cent for not having to harvest the potatoes, of a 10-year average yield. That’s not great compensation with yields increasing in the past few years, Sawatzky said.

Some potatoes have already been imported from Alberta to supply processors. Some vegetable producers have reported a total loss of the onion crop, but Mayfair Farms near Portage only lost 20 per cent of its crop, manager Melanie Moran said.

“We mostly hobbled through it. It was a different harvest,” she said.

About 80 acres of carrots went unharvested at Jeffries Brothers Vegetable Farms, owner Roland Jeffries said.

“We had to leave some in the ground because it was too wet. We just couldn’t get out and dig,” Jeffries said. Jeffries Brothers also grows parsnips, zucchini, asparagus, red beets and strawberries.

There are some crop producers with 80 per cent of their corn still in the field in southwestern Manitoba, said Bill Campbell, Keystone Agricultural Producers’ president.

There are still a few fields of wheat and canola that were not harvested, added Campbell, who farms near Minot, south of Brandon. Cereal crops harvested late are typically downgraded to Grade 3 or feed grade, he said.

It could have been a lot worse, Campbell said.

“For the most part, agriculture had a surprisingly good year,” he said.

The last provincial crop report at the end of October estimated 20 per cent of sunflowers and 40 per cent of corn was still in the fields.

“It’s not the weather anymore” that’s preventing those crops from being harvested but “drying capacity,” crop analyst Kubinec said.

“Producers are taking crop off and drying it as they go. Or, if they don’t have a dryer, they’re waiting until it gets a bit colder so it’s not as high in moisture content,” she said. “As long as we don’t get six feet of snow, combining in these conditions is no issue. It’s actually easier now because the ground is frozen solid.”

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