On Oct. 9, Bob Davis, president of Maine Farmers Exchange, commonly referred to as MFX, in Presque Isle, ME, told The Produce News that table stock harvesting in the state was 85 percent complete.
“We have had some rain in the past week,” said Mr. Davis. “We could wrap up harvesting in a couple of days if the weather holds. Growers here have from September 15 to October 15 to get their potatoes out of the ground. With a little luck, we could be wrapped up in the next three to four days.”
Mr. Davis said the quality of Maine’s potato crop this year is the best he has seen in many years. Last year, growers were plagued with too much water and blight, so this year’s good crop is an added blessing.
“We planted 59,000 acres this year — up a little from last year — but we’ll only be harvesting 55,000,” he said. “There were some low-lying areas and edges of fields that suffered some moisture damage early in the growing season.”
Mr. Davis noted that Idaho has increased its acreage by 25,000 every year for the past several years. This year, the state is reporting 345,000 acres. In 2011, it planted 320,000, and in 2010 it had 295,000 acres.
“Idaho has increased in just two years the equivalent of the entire state of Maine’s production,” said Mr. Davis. “The July 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop production report showed Oregon at 41,000 acres, Colorado at 55,000, Michigan at 46,000, Minnesota at 51,000, Maine at 59,000, New York at 17,000 and Wisconsin at 63,000 acres.”
Added together, these states tally 332,000 acres, 13,000 less than Idaho alone produces. Idaho has a strong marketing budget, and they’re able to rail their potatoes across the country. Processing drives a lot of Idaho’s budget. Due in part to shortages of russet varieties for French fries in past years, the state increases its acreage every year in order to compensate. The result is that in some years there are just too many potatoes on the market.
“You cannot continue to overproduce and expect people to stay in business,” said Mr. Davis. “Idaho’s higher yield amounts this year are basically the same as Maine’s entire production.”
Despite the challenges related to marketing the Maine crop, he stressed that it is a good-quality crop across the board this year.
He added that both Maine and New Brunswick growers have seen major shakeouts over the years. “Potato growers who are still in business are so because they are savvy and they understand the dynamics of marketing correctly,” said Mr. Davis. “The average age of farmers in America is getting older. If their kids don’t want to inherit the farms, they get eaten up by corporate farms. We may lose farmers, but we’re not losing acreage in Maine.”
Mr. Davis said MFX will be able to fill orders and have supplies throughout the coming year with the new crop, and he expects that it will be a good year.
“The big issue is to make sure we get a fair price for growers,” he said. “So far this year, prices aren’t working very well for us, but when the summer areas are finished shipping, we’ll see what happens. We think we’ll have a strong market, and we even hope to bring back some customer areas that we have not been able to supply because of our short crops in the past couple of years.”
Maine Farmers Exchange handles Superior and other round white potato varieties. In russets, it deals primarily in the Norkotah variety, and Yukon Gold and Keuka Gold for its yellow flesh variety.