Manitoba's commercial potato industry involves the production of potatoes for the fresh, processing and seed markets and is the second largest potato industry in Canada.
Manitoba's first record of commercial potato production was in 1908 when 20,800 acres were harvested. Production levels fluctuated until the early 1960's, at which time more Manitoba producers began looking for alternatives to grain.
Over the years, the area seeded to potatoes has increased as new markets were developed across Canada and into the United States and Mexico.
Today, Manitoba harvests over 80,000 acres of potatoes, much of which is irrigated.
The Manitoba Advantage
The soil and climatic conditions in the southern and western regions of the province makes Manitoba one of the most productive places in Canada to grow potatoes.
The availability of irrigated land and the lengthy growing season characteristic of these regions offer the ideal growing environment for potatoes.
This results in Manitoba producing approximately one-fifth of Canada's total potato crop.
Over 24 varieties of potatoes are grown in Manitoba.
The table varieties are mainly Reds, however some Russets and yellow-fleshed varieties are also grown for the table.
The main varieties used for processing are the Russet Burbank and Shepody. A five-year average breakdown of the annual potato crop sales shows that 86% of the crop was contracted for processing, 7% was table stock and the remaining 7% were marketed as certified seed.
The Manitoba potato industry has more than 120 producers under contract to produce processing potatoes, about 37 growers of the table varieties and another 28 seed potato producers.
In all, the province's expanding potato industry employs over 1,500 full-time and casual on farm workers.
There are three major potato processors in Manitoba that are responsible for over 1,000 full-time positions. Midwest Food Products and McCain Foods process potatoes into french fries and Old Dutch processes potatoes to produce potato chips.
The Russet Burbank variety of potato is the most common variety grown under contract for french fry processors which account for the vast majority of acres grown in Manitoba. Naleway Foods also processes a small volume of potatoes into ethnic foods, predominantly perogies.
The Manitoba-based processors have approximately 50% of Canada's French fry production capacity and process over 1200 million pounds of potatoes each year.
These processed goods are exported across Canada and into other countries such as the United States, Japan, the Philippines and Panama.
Economic Impact of the Potato Industry in Manitoba
The Economic impact of the potato industry in Manitoba was analyzed in detail in 2014 by informa economics for the Keystone Potato Producers Association, with additional funding from Peak of the Market, Chipping Potato Growers of Manitoba, the Seed Potato Growers of Manitoba, McCain Foods Canada, and Simplot Canada II. Their findings can be found in the report: "The Economic Contributions of the Manitoba Potato Complex".
Informa Economics concludes that in total, the Manitoba potato complex is responsible for over $1.4 billion in industry output with $1.0 billion in Manitoba.
This industry activity added $403 million to the Canadian GDP with $287 million staying in Manitoba. The equivalent of 4,594 full time jobs were provided by the overall potato complex, with 3,143 of those jobs being serviced in Manitoba and the other jobs contributed to other provinces.
Potential for potato cultivation in Manitoba
With large areas of land suitable for potato production and the potential for expanding the processing industry, Manitoba could soon become the largest potato producer in Canada.
Manitoba producers are constantly upgrading to the most modern production and storage equipment and techniques available. It has been the cooperation between producers, processors and other industry partners that has contributed to the growing success of the potato industry in Manitoba.