Dry conditions having small impact on potato growth

6 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — Although it has been a dry, hot summer, the annual potato growing season appears to be right on schedule, according to industry officials.

“As a whole, quality is good everywhere,” said Don Flannery, president of the Maine Potato Board. “There has been no diseases, but it has been dry and hot, and drier in some areas than others.”

Flannery said southern Aroostook County has probably fared the best in terms of securing what little bit of rainfall there has been so far this summer, while the northern part of the state, like Fort Kent and Madawaska, have received the least amount of rain.

These shepody potatoes, grown by Hodgdon farmer Joel Oliver, are sold as seed potatoes and shipped to southern states like Florida.
(Joseph Cyr)

“Everyone can use some more water and there is no doubt about that,” he said. “But quality wise, I think we will be putting a good, quality crop into storage this year. The tale of the tape will be what our yields are once digging begins. It was dry last summer too and we ended up with a good yield.”

The next two or three weeks will be crucial for many area farmers in hopes of seeing their crops “bulk up” before the harvest, Flannery added.

Joel Oliver, a potato farmer in Hodgdon, is one those farmers hoping for some rainy weather to perk up the growing cycle, but said this year was not as bad as the previous summer.

“This year, everything looks good,” Oliver said. “It’s been dry this year, but last year was worse. Last July, we had almost no rain and I think that affected the yields. This year, what we have dug into has looked real good.”

Last year’s harvest was a scorcher, Oliver said, with many farmers having to cease digging by noon because of the warm temperatures.

It was so hot the first two weeks of harvest, which started Sept. 14, last year, that “we never dug a whole day until the end of the second week,” Oliver said. “If you put a lot of hot potatoes into a pile, they can’t cool off no matter how much air you put on them. They can turn to mush in a hurry.”

The recent streak of humid weather has not had any impact on the growing cycle, Flannery said. The bigger concern, he said, has been the high winds some areas have seen, as that can affect the growing cycle in a negative way.

Flannery said he expects southern Maine will likely start harvesting potatoes in the next 10-14 days, but for northern Maine, most farmers are looking at the middle of September before they can start storing product.