You could be paying more for potatoes in 2019. Is climate change to blame?

Canadian farmers across the country said wet and cold weather prevented them from harvesting all their potato crop this year — and that could lead to a possible shortage of the staple food.

United Potato Growers of Canada said that in typical years, one area of the country may suffer from a bad harvest, while others do OK. But this year, problems spanned the entire country.

Kevin MacIsaac, the organization’s general manager, explained to Global News that at least 16,000 acres of potato crop were abandoned across the country.

P.E.I., the country’s largest potato producer, suffered the most —  eight per cent of the province’s crop, 6,800 acres, were left unharvested.

Overall in Canada, about 4.5 per cent of the crop was wasted.

MacIsaac said that could lead to a potato shortage in Canada, and higher prices.

“It’s later on in the end of winter season when we start to see shortages or supplies being tightened up. And I expect at that time there is potential for some higher pricing in the grocery stories.”

In the processing sector, where potatoes are largely used for french fries, MacIsaac said that factories may have to look at importing potatoes from elsewhere.

He explained that this year’s harvest season was more wet and cold than normal, but he doesn’t consider that a sign of climate change.

“I don’t really see it as being trendsetting,” he said. “As we look through history, we have the opposite problem.”

MacIsaac explained that in 2001, for example, a major drought in Eastern Canada led to a shortage of potato crop. This year they had the opposite problem, with more wet weather than expected.

Several studies have pointed out that changing climates will impact potato farmers not just in Canada, but around the world.

An October study published in the European Journal of Agronomy explained that potato crops will “decline by the end of the century due to climate change.”

The article, titled, “Climate change impact on global potato production,” noted that the exact impacts will vary across the world.

In 2013, the Peru-based International Potato Center, issued a similar warning about potatoes.

“The potato is unequivocally one of the world’s most important food crops, and climate change, however varied, signals huge implications to the continued production of this life-sustaining crop,” it wrote on its website.

It explained that there are four factors to consider as temperatures warm: pests and diseases, water supply, and carbon levels.

While there are risks, the group noted that potatoes are still quite resilient.

For example, it explains that increased CO2 may even lead to a higher rate of growth for potato crops.

‘Global weirding’

Navin Ramankutty, a food security and sustainability professor at the University of British Columbia, told Global News it’s too early to know whether this year’s potato crop problems will continue to worsen in the same way.

But Ramankutty noted that climate change, without question, will impact potato and other crops.

He explained the concept of “global weirding” sums up changing weather patterns, their unpredictability and affect on agriculture.

“We might see more extreme weather, heatwaves, droughts,” he said, noting that these events might occur out of season and disrupt farmers’ work.

Ramankutty said that means agricultural experts have to reevaluate their growing strategies. That could mean a variety of things, including new equipment, growing at different times of the year, or in different regions.

“The first part of the problem is to acknowledge that there is climate change happening already — it’s not just in the future.”

“Second, we need to adapt to it.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

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