Potato industry shows strong growth in Alberta

Spuds may not be the first thing that come to mind when you think about farming in Alberta, but potatoes are eating up a growing slice of the province’s agriculture sector.

Alberta has about 21,500 hectares of farmland dedicated to potatoes, which has doubled in the last 20 years

Alberta's potato industry has grown by more than 100 per cent in recent years and now rivals P.E.I. (Eduard Korniyenko/Reuters)

Spuds may not be the first thing that come to mind when you think about farming in Alberta, but potatoes are eating up a growing slice of the province's agriculture sector.

Alberta has about 21,500 hectares of farmland dedicated to potatoes, producing just over two billion pounds of spuds last year, putting the province third in the country behind Prince Edward Island (36,000 hectares) and Manitoba (27,235 hectares).

Terence Hochstein, the executive director of the Potato Growers of Alberta, says the potato industry adds about $1 billion to the provincial economy.

Hochstein says most of that goes to the seed and manufacturing sector.

"We're about a $225-million farm gate value, and the value added across the entire industry is over $1 billion that the potato industry puts into the Alberta economy, so it is quite large as far as that's concerned," he said.

Over the last two decades, potato production in Alberta has more than doubled, growing by 135 per cent, while in Manitoba the industry grew by 35 per cent and in P.E.I. it dropped by 20 per cent.

"Alberta is quickly becoming the largest potato manufacturer in the country," said Todd Hirsch, ATB's chief economist.

"When you look at Alberta's economy, there's so much focus on the energy sector for obvious reasons, but to me, more diversity, even including relatively small crops like potatoes, we're starting to see more diversity in our agricultural commodities."

Potatoes may not rival wheat or canola, but Hirsch says it's still an important crop.

"I would expect in the coming years, Alberta to surpass Prince Edward Island in potato production, " he said.

With Cavendish Farms slated to open a new Lethbridge processing plant in 2019 — adding another 3,800 hectares — the potato industry is expecting another bump in growth in the coming years.

With files from Jennifer Lee