Farmer Focus Arable: Seth Pascoe dealt potato contract blow

March was a disappointing month. McCain sent a letter telling us to expect a 30% reduction in contract tonnage this season. Speculation among the potato industry this spring was that contracts might be reduced, but few envisaged such a severe cut. The strong Canadian dollar and high yields/over-production in Washington and Idaho were cited as the main reasons.

We took advantage of the kind weather in March and trucked our potato seed, albeit a lower quantity, back to the farm from our suppliers in the north. There was a big difference in seed size and quality between our two suppliers, indicative of which farm got rain last summer and which didn’t.

The month finished with gale force winds above 65mph. We retreated to the workshop and peered out the window as various objects flew by. However, positive outcomes were that no topsoil was lost to wind erosion and the wind dried up remaining wet spots in the fields. Once the winds eased, we were out in the fields cultivating and sowed all the spring wheat.

Potato production is our backbone. Unfortunately, the reduced potato area means we will have to level fields ridged and fertilised for potatoes last autumn and sow cereals. The combination of rock-bottom grain prices and compulsory marketing with the Canadian Wheat Board make it hard for me to be optimistic in planting grain this spring.

Potato seed cutting and planting is about to start, but we are yet to sign the contract. Negotiations are continuing, but there is still no contracted price or tonnage agreed. However, as I type this, there is a winter storm warning in effect for southern Alberta, and we are told to expect 10-20cm of snow. Perhaps planting won’t start as soon as I expected.

• For more columns from Seth Pascoe

• For more columns from other Arable Farmer Focus writers

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