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Heavy rains during growing likely to result in shorter crop

by Christina DiMartino | November 11, 2011
Maine potato harvesting underway. (Photo courtesy of the Maine Potato Board)

The potato industry is vital to the state of Maine. Regardless of the ebb and flow of markets, the handing down of farming operations from generation to generation continues to nourish the state economically, culturally and historically. The Maine Potato Board, located in Presque Isle, ME, represents growers in ways that help to ensure that the industry will continue to thrive in the future.

On Nov. 4, Tim Hobbs, director of development and grower relations for the board, told The Produce News that potato producers in Maine are indicating that this season’s crop is likely to be short.

“Right after planting, there was some heavy rain in certain areas in the state, and it continued throughout the growing season,” said Mr. Hobbs. “This was not across the board in Maine, however. Some areas weren’t affected at all. But there are certainly a few who are predicting that some potatoes will be lost this year.”

He added that the amount of potatoes that will not go into storage this year due to water damage will not be known for about a month. Growers leave the potatoes in the fields until they are dry, and then they determine what can be dug for storage.

“Potatoes that have been water soaked could break down in storage,” explained Mr. Hobbs. “Growers try to avoid storing bad potatoes, but it sometimes happens that they have to weed bad product out of storage later in the year.”

In the areas where shortages are expected, all varieties would be affected.

There are two potato industries in Maine: one for table stock and one for seed stock. Mr. Hobbs said that it is necessary that both be good quality. Potatoes for table and seed stock are grown in many areas across the United States and Canada, so no nationwide shortage is predicted for either.

He said that growers will exercise extreme caution when determining what will be put into storage and will carefully inspect shipments to customers to ensure that only good-quality potatoes are delivered this year.

“Maine has a mandatory inspection law,” he said. “Federal inspectors check every load of potatoes that are shipped to ensure that they are U.S. No. 1 grade quality,” said Mr. Hobbs. “Maine has its own grade that is even higher: the Maine Grade Potato. These are the largest and most perfect-looking potatoes.”

Despite what is expected to be a somewhat shorter crop this season, Mr. Hobbs said that he has not heard that buyers’ needs will go unmet and that growers’ customers can rest assured that their orders will be filled.

“Years ago, Maine had about 100,000 acres of potatoes,” he said. “Consolidations and some growers either closing their doors or switching to other crops have reduced our acreage to about 55,000, which has been pretty consistent for the past five years. The businesses that are here have been growing potatoes for a long time. They are truly seasoned professionals who know their business.”