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Eastern Shore producing ‘prettiest potato crop ever’ this season

The weather on Virginia’s Eastern Shore has been a little on the dry side, but temperatures have been perfect for potatoes, resulting in what looks to be a strong crop.

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 produce 1BBP5674 Everything’s coming up potatoes on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. (Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services)between 3,000 and 4,000 acres of potatoes,” said Mr. Nottingham, “and we’ve seen a slight increase this year. Our growers produce high-quality reds, whites and yellows and russets. One operation really specializes in russets, and some others grow them as a small portion of their crop.”

“This is the prettiest crop I’ve ever seen,” he added. “Dublin Farms in Horntown, Virginia, is one of the state’s biggest potato producers, and they have an outstanding crop this year.”

He noted that the mild winter and spring would have the crops coming on between a week to 10 days early.

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 there. 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.

Virginia growers also produce other valuable crops.

“We have significant acreage in tomatoes, potatoes and green beans,” said Mr. Nottingham. “Those are the big three on the Eastern Shore. Our largest green bean operation is C&E Farms in Cheriton, Virginia. Our spring and fall crops of fresh market tomatoes are historically number three in production volume in the country, behind California and Florida respectively.”

He noted that of the three major tomato operations on the Eastern Shore, one did not plant tomatoes for the spring, so he expects lower volumes and decreased acreage for the spring season.

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 table stock 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 cape on June 10.”

Fresh produce harvesting on the Eastern Shore typically starts in early June, but those crops too will be a little earlier because of the warm weather. 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 and 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 chain stores where we take buyers to the farms to meet the growers. This helps create business for Virginia’s producers.”