Despite smaller crop, potato market strong

Posted Dec. 17, 2008, at 8:15 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:05 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A diminished potato harvest in Maine this year was not unexpected, Don Flannery, the executive director of the Maine Potato Board, said Tuesday.

“With the summer that we had, we knew not to expect a big crop,” he explained, reacting to the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has noted that Maine’s 2008 potato harvest will go down in the books as one of the smallest in decades due to reductions in potato acreage and yield.

The USDA says this year’s potato production is estimated at about 1.44 billion pounds, down 14 percent below the 2007 harvest. Harvest estimates will be updated in January.

Preliminary reports indicate that Maine farmers harvested an estimated 54,500 acres of potatoes. Twenty-five years ago, Maine farmers were harvesting more than 100,000 acres of potatoes.

According to the USDA, the average yield in Maine this year is estimated at about 26,500 pounds per acre, down from last year’s yield of 29,500 pounds. Brent Buck, co-owner of Buck Farms in Mapleton, said he planted about 15 barrels less per acre than he has in previous years.

“In general, our crop was good but it was light,” he said. “We planted a total of 450 acres of potatoes, but around our area we had a lot of rain and just not as much sun. We didn’t produce as many potatoes as in past years.”

Flannery said growers planted fewer acres this year to keep the price competitive.

“The worst thing you can do is overplant,” he said. “That drives the prices down and leaves a lot of potatoes left over.”

Also, “it was a miserable summer,” he said.

“This summer went from dry to wet and then wetter than in some places than it was in others,” he said. “We just didn’t have a lot of heat degree days, and, north of Caribou, growers got 7 or 8 inches more of rain than in central and southern Aroostook.” But, Flannery added, while this year’s crop is smaller, the “market is strong and prices are stable.”

Things were a bit different at Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, where Jim and Megan Gerritsen planted 11 acres of organic potatoes this year, which is up from 9 acres in past years.

“We are seeing a growing need for them, which prompted us to plant more,” Megan Gerritsen said Tuesday. “We also had pretty good weather, not like all of the rain they got up north.”

The certified organic farm grows 17 varieties of specialty potatoes.

“We had a good crop this year, so we’ll have plenty of potatoes for those who want them,” she said.

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