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article imagePotato shortage in Canada looms after unseasonable weather

By Karen Graham     Dec 1, 2018 in Environment
Farmers across Canada left thousands of acres of potato crops unharvested after a slew of bad weather created challenging conditions, setting the stage for a possible shortage of the starchy dinner table staple.
Potatoes - who doesn't like the starchy vegetable? From mashed potatoes to potato soup and baked, to chips, latkes and french fries, they are a staple in our diet around the world.
Just as Canadian farmers have abandoned thousands of acres of the tubers, farmers in European countries, like Germany and potato growers in Wisconsin, Michigan and several other spots in the U.S., have also been hit by unfavorable weather that has resulted in hefty losses.
"It's unprecedented. Never, never before have I seen this in my time," said Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada (UPGC), an organization that provides industry information to help farmers make production and marketing decisions, reports CTV News.
Famous Prince Edward Island potatoes.
Famous Prince Edward Island potatoes.
PEI Potatoes
MacIsaac has been with the organization for seven years, and before that, was a potato grower on Prince Edward Island. He says that it is not unusual for one area of the country to experience a bad harvest, but this year, the "harvest from hell" covers almost all the way across the country.
According to estimates - more than 16,000 acres of potatoes were abandoned in the fields this year. Estimates from Saskatchewan, Ontario or Nova Scotia have not come in yet, although they have indicated there were some crop losses. B.C. is the only province that did not mention abandoned crops in UPGC's report.
P.E.I., the country's largest potato producer, was hit the hardest this year. In a typical year, 500 to 1,000 acres may be abandoned, but this year, farmers left about 6,800 acres unharvested, said Greg Donald, general manager of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, which represents about 170 potato growers.
The bottom line is that millions of dollars worth of Canadian potatoes were left to rot in the ground this year due to weather conditions that hit Northern Hemisphere countries especially hard this year.
One of hottest years on record
The World Meteorological Organization, an intergovernmental organization of 191 national meteorological services, such as the US National Weather Service, the UK Met Office and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, among others, recently reported the past four years have the been the hottest on record, going back to 1850
The report says that 2018 started with a weak La Niña event, which continued until March. By October, however, sea-surface temperatures in the eastern Tropical Pacific were showing signs of a return to El Niño conditions. This accounts for the lackluster growing season in Canada, with a late spring and hot, dry summer, followed by an early frost in September that killed any future growth potential.
Climate extremes are hitting the agriculture sector particularly hard, threatening to reverse gains in the fight to end malnutrition, the latest report said, according to CNN.
Potato growers around the world
Germany lost 43 percent of its maize and 21 percent of its potato crop, with production losses likely to be in the billions of euros, the report said. In Michigan and Wisconsin, losses due to weather extremes amounted to 10 to 15 percent of the potato crop, according to The Packer.
Greek Cypriot potato producers said in September that serious shortages in the supply of locally produced potatoes have led to soaring prices and to an increasing dependence on equally expensive imported produce. Some officials say that as much as 60 percent of the potato crop has been lost due to the extreme heat and lack of rainfall.
According to Greek Cypriot growers, the supplies of potatoes they have left for the Cyprus market was being sold at steep prices, while similarly overpriced potatoes imported from Greece, Egypt and Jordan are being sold to compensate for the lack of local produce.
More about potato harvest, Climate change, Europe, Canada, soaring prices
 
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