Of spuds and cropping changes

Even though I have covered agriculture as a significant part of my job for the past three decades, I am still at times surprised by the level of diversity in the sector in this country.
A case in point is the developing story of potatoes in Manitoba.
Like many, I have always thought of Prince Edward Island as the primary place in terms of the production of spuds in this country.
And, for years and years that has been the case.
But like wheat, long the primary crop on the Canadian Prairies giving way to canola in recent years, it appears the potato crown is about to be moved from PEI to Manitoba.
Two things are converging to signal the change.
The first has Simplot spending $400 million to expand its french fry processing plant in Portage la Prairie. The larger factory, double the size of the existing plant, will be operational in early 2020, and that will signal a need for Manitoba producers to plant some 16,000 more acres of potatoes.
The additional acres won’t quite bring the overall Manitoba acreage to that on PEI where about 85,000 acres are planted, but since yields are generally better in Manitoba the production crown will shift.
While the passing of the torch in terms of potato production is probably not hugely impactful in term of overall Canadian farm production, it does again help to illustrate how crop production can change over time.
Such change is usually driven by advancements in crop genetics which allow crops to move into none traditional areas and be grown successfully.
That evolution of a crop is perhaps most dramatically seen in Western Canada in terms of canola, once thought of as a crop confined to northern areas of the Prairies, new varieties have expanded its potential growing area across almost all areas of the region, and into the northern United States.
While genetics has pushed canola south, the same type of crop development efforts have expanded corn and soybeans north, the latter finding success into the area of eastern Saskatchewan up to the Yellowhead Highway.
At present, the crop expansion merely opens doors to greater crop diversification, but longer term, maybe not as long as most hope or imagine, it will be critical as the effects of climate change become more pronounced.
There are those who might want to argue the cause of climate change, and might even suggest it is natural as opposed to manmade, but the reasons won’t alter the impact of the changes as they occur. Only changes in how we manage the new climate and what we grow where will matter.
Calvin Daniels is Editor with Yorkton This Week.

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