Manitoba Potato Production Days are celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.

This week's event in Brandon includes sessions on regenerative agriculture, wildfires and soil health.

The event originally began as Horticultural Production Days in 1973 until some of the other fruit and vegetable growers split off on their own.

This year's Conference chair Dan Sawatzky says the potato industry in the province continues to grow.

"With the expansion of Simplot, we are up to close to 80,000 acres. We have about 63 growers in the province and a little over 26 million hundredweight of potatoes was produced last year."

Manitoba is the second largest potato producer in Canada, behind P.E.I. with 1/5th of Canada's total potato acreage.

Sawatzky notes that producers have struggled over the last four years with early frosts in 2018/19 and a drought in 2020.

"Excess moisture in the spring of 2022 delayed our planting and we just weren't able to realize the full potential of our yields here. We got our potatoes into the ground in some cases into well into June and generally, we like to have a lot of potato planting done by the second week of May."

He adds last year's production brought in around 330 hundredweight per acre, while the highest production was reported back in 2017 when production hit 390 hundredweight per acre.

Sawatzky says they'd like to see production at about 350 to 370 hundredweight.

One of the biggest challenges for Manitoba's potato industry right now is the need for additional acreage.

He notes we're seeing potatoes being contracted from outside of the province in order to meet the needs of processors 

"We'd certainly like to see an end to that but to do that we would need additional access to water. A lot of the water sources are fully allocated as far as irrigation potential. We need to see some expansion of that in various ways, whether that be additional storage capacity or additional licensing on existing waterways."

Sawatsky says they've launched a study with the U of M focusing on the potential for additional water from the Assiniboine-Delta aquifer.

Over the years investments in irrigation and drainage have helped to increase the province's potato yields.