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Eastern Shore producing another pretty potato crop this season

Butch Nottingham, marketing specialist for the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, headquartered in Richmond, VA, told The Produce News that the agency focuses heavily on the state’s potato crops.

“Farmers in Virginia typically produce between 3,000 and 4,000 acres of potatoes,” said Mr. Nottingham. “But we’ve seen an eight to 10 percent decrease this year for various reasons.”

Growers in the state produce high-quality red, white, yellow and russet potatoes. One operation in particular specializes in russets, and some others produce them as a small portion of their crop.

1BBP5679A Virginia potato field under cultivation. (Photo courtesy of the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services)Mr. Nottingham said that this year’s crop is looking great. The weather on the Eastern Shore has been perfect for potatoes: cool with adequate moisture.

“Some growers are just now beginning to irrigate as the weather warms up,” Nottingham noted on May 30. “I have not seen a bad-looking potato field in Virginia this year. Dublin Farms in Horntown, Virginia, is one of the state’s biggest potato producers, and they have an outstanding crop.”

He added that spring came a little late, which delayed planting a little. “So the crop looks to be a week to ten days later this year,” he added. “Harvest should begin the week of June 17 and be in full swing by early July.”

But Virginia potato growers also have a little wider window this year because the red potato movement in the Midwest and in the South has run a little late. In fact, Nottingham said that all potato-growing regions are reporting that they will be a little late. That hopefully means that everyone will have a window.

“But pricing is strong now out of the South because everyone has had a little adverse weather during the growing season,” he added. “Coming north, the picture looks a lot better than it did back in January when reports were that the West was going to have a big crop. That did not turn out to be the case. So things are looking good. If the situation remains like this it will mean that we’ll have another good season pricewise.”

Most of the potatoes produced in Virginia are shipped up and down the eastern portion of the country. When northern areas are not producing, much of the crop is distributed in those regions. When the Southern states stop producing, shipments are redirected to the South. Some of potatoes, the amount depending on market conditions every year, are distributed in Canada. Virginia’s potato crop has an estimated annual value of $15 million to $25 million dollars.

Virginia growers also produce other valuable crops.

“We have significant acreage in tomatoes, potatoes and green beans,” said Nottingham. “Those are the big three on the Eastern Shore. Our largest green bean operation is C&E Farms in Cheriton, Virginia. With two major tomato operations on the shore, acreage and volume will be about the same as last year. Round, Roma, grape, cherry and heirloom tomatoes will all be available during our season, which runs from late June through September.”

Mr. Nottingham said that Eastern Shore fresh-market crops sold under the Virginia Grown locally grown initiative are distributed throughout the East Coast and as far west as the Mississippi River.

“Of the potatoes grown here, about 60 percent go to tablestock and the remainder goes to chip processing,” he said. “In a normal year the potato movement runs from late June through the first week of August, although reports are that the crop may be a week to 10 days early this year. Growers expect to start harvesting on the southernmost part of the [area] on June 10.”

Fresh produce harvesting on the Eastern Shore typically starts in early June, but those crops will also be a little later because of the cooler than normal spring. Growers produce two fresh-crop seasons, except for potatoes, which have just one season.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia consists of two counties: Accomack and Northampton, located on the Atlantic coast of Virginia. The region is part of the Delmarva Peninsula and is separated from the rest of Virginia by the Chesapeake Bay.

Virginia Tech’s Eastern Shore Agricultural Research & Extension Center, located on the Eastern Shore, sits on a 226-acre farm. More than 25 agricultural crops are grown annually for research and extension studies of numerous field crops.

“Through our Virginia Grown initiative, we partner with growers, retailers, green markets, you-pick-them farms and roadside stands,” said Mr. Nottingham. “We offer point of purchase materials, run print ads and we work with the industry on advertising. One of our primary programs is a sales initiative with chainstores where we take buyers to the farms to meet the growers. This helps create business for Virginia’s producers.”