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Agricultural experts say 2019 Aroostook County potato harvest a success

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Despite a delay in the end of potato harvest season due to rain and cold weather, local growers have deemed this year’s potato crop a success.

A recently released report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture said this year’s average yield for Aroostook County potato crops is 320 hundredweight per acre, meaning 320 hundred-pound bags of potatoes were harvested on 1 acre. The yield for 2019 marks an increase from last year’s average of 310 hundredweight per acre.

The USDA report also said that 51,500 acres of potatoes were harvested in Aroostook County, a 3,000-acre increase from 2018. Maine Potato Board President Don Flannery said that farmers did not spot blemishes, diseases or other causes of concern in the crop. 

Earlier this fall Flannery had said heavy rainfall and unusually warm temperatures of around 50 degrees prevented farmers from working in the fields during much of the first week of harvest, which began Sept. 23. 

Typically potato growers aim to end harvest close to Oct. 10, but the wet conditions of the soil caused a more than weeklong delay in this year’s end to the season.

“We didn’t have a lot of rain in October, but any time the ground is wet, it takes much longer to dry,” Flannery said. 

He noted that ideal weather conditions for harvest are temperatures no higher than the low 70s during the day and above 35 degrees at night. Though the summer proved to be dry and hot like in 2018, he said, growers credit rain at the end of August with helping to produce a healthy yield.

While 65 percent of Aroostook County’s potato crops are processed at plants such as Pineland Farms in Mars Hill, McCain Foods in Easton and Penobscot McCrum — now in the process of building a plant in Washburn — 20 percent is devoted to seed potatoes and 15 percent goes to the fresh food market. 

Local potato crops, Flannery said, are also in high demand for out-of-state potato chip companies such as Frito Lay, Utz Quality Foods and Cape Cod.

“When you have a good quality crop, that creates greater market demand,” Flannery said.

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