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Late summer weather very important to Wisconsin spuds

Wisconsin’s 2019 potato crop has largely bounced back from rough springtime planting weather.

“The crop is quite variable,” said Tamas Houlihan, executive director of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association, based in Antigo, WI. “Some fields have excellent size and quality tubers.”

It is too early to predict how the new crop is going to finish, but the harvest date is expected to be seven to 10 days later than normal. The crop had been two weeks late, but good weather from July into mid-August helped the fields catch up in production.

This could be a good crop with the right Wisconsin weather at the end of August and into September.

Tamas-HoulihanTamas HoulihanHoulihan noted that central Wisconsin growers of yellow and red potatoes feel particularly positive about their crop, which was ahead of normal production.

Because of the late start and inconsistent production from one field to the next, bad weather this year could really hurt final production numbers.

Houlihan recalled last year’s rough landing with too much rain, and then too much heat, climaxed by a hard freeze. Thus, he said, growers at an early-August WPVGA board meeting were reluctant to be overly optimistic in “counting their chickens” in a meeting.

“Right now we’re looking at an average-yield year,” he said. “With the late planting and weather events it’s been less than ideal. But we could still have very good yields and very good quality. We still have a couple of weeks to grow and a month and a half to harvest.”

Houlihan said a growing area around Plover, WI, which produces potatoes, beans and peas, had a defoliating hailstorm on Aug. 5. A Silverton variety Russet potato grower there was very pleased with his beautiful crop, which, before the hail, just needed more time to size the tubers. “Now that will probably not size up like he’d like to see,” said Houlihan.

He added that Wisconsin growers of seed stock and processing-market potatoes were experiencing the same type of season as the fresh-market potato producers. Particular good news came from a grower of small round whites for Del Monte Foods whose late-July harvest resulted in a “great crop.”

Wisconsin’s potato acreage estimate is 63,000. Houlihan said the average yield for the state’s growers ranges between 420 and 440 bags per acre. In 2018, the state produced only 400 bags per acre.

“My best-guess for this year would be about 415 bags,” he said, “or even better if the late summer weather is good.”