Manitoba

1,000s of acres of potatoes still unharvested in farmers' frozen fields

There are 5,200 acres of potatoes in Manitoba farmers' fields that won't make it to people's tables.

About 8% of potato crop can't be saved, Keystone Agricultural Producers president says

A lot of Manitoba potatoes aren't making it off the fields this year. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

There are 5,200 acres of potatoes in Manitoba farmers' fields that won't make it to people's tables.

The weather has left about eight per cent of the provincial potato crop unharvested, said Bill Campbell, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers. 

A dry summer followed by an unseasonably cool, wet September left some of the later-seeded crops and the longer-season crops without enough time to mature, Campbell said.

The wet conditions also interfered with bringing the crops off the fields — farmers need dry ground for harvesting.

Add in the early snow and farmers just ran out of time.

An unprecedented number of potatoes are left on the field, but farmers are optimistic they will be able to harvest the remaining soybeans and corn, said Bill Campbell, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers. (Submitted by Bill Campbell)

It's not just potatoes left in the fields, Campbell said; corn, sunflowers, soy beans, cereals and canola are still on the fields.

But the number of acres of potatoes left in the ground is unprecendented, he said. 

"It was just kind of the worst-case scenario, the way things evolved with our harvest," said Campbell, who doesn't think the ground will thaw until spring.

"I believe anything that's in the ground now will probably be unsalvageable."

Once potatoes freeze, they can't be stored and they are subject to rotting if you put them in a bin, he said.

"I don't think it's reasonable to think they can get them harvested now," said Campbell.

The snow makes it difficult to harvest anything, never mind an underground crop like potatoes.

"The corn and soy beans, this is not unprecedented for them. It's an inconvenience, but they will probably get around to getting them harvested," said Campbell.

While a shortage of potatoes could cause a price increase, producers probably won't get the benefits, Campbell said.

"Most of these vegetable crops are contracted and so the price is already determined, so the producer will be the one that's on the short end of the stick," he said.

Some farmers might have crop insurance, but it doesn't mean they will be fully protected. It's an individual choice to have crop insurance, but the coverage is limited, Campbell said.

Farmers who have already harvested more than what the insurance covers won't get anything from their insurance.

"Of these 5,200 acres, there's a pretty good potential that the producers themselves will be the ones that take the shortfall in not being able to get those crops to the market and for sale," said Campbell.

Farmers will have to wait for the ground to thaw to deal with the potatoes that haven't been harvested. 

"Anything that's left in the field is a challenge and a task next spring."

Thousands of acres of potatoes are still underground in Manitoba fields thanks to poor harvesting conditions this fall. The wet weather and then freeze up means tons of potatoes, onions and other crops were never harvested. 2:06