Weather delays harvest but potato crop ‘good’

Posted Oct. 08, 2009, at 10:57 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:40 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Potato growers are “a little discouraged by the weather,” Don Flannery, the executive director of the Maine Potato Board, said Thursday, but they are “not discouraged with the crop” being picked out of the ground.

Rainy weather has hampered the harvest of this year’s crop, which is approximately half completed, Flannery said. But the executive director said growers just need five or six days of good weather to get the remaining crop out of the ground.

The weather this year has been challenging to many people.

“We had a very rainy June and July and then an extremely dry August and September,” he said. “And we were initially worried about the quality of the crop. When we started harvest, it was very dry, and we did see some bruising of the potatoes, but not to the point where there was a tremendous amount of damage.”

Nearly 55,000 acres of potatoes are planted in Maine each year. The $125 million crop is sold to make potato chips, french fries and other processed foods as well as for the fresh table market.

In July, late blight was found in fields throughout The County. Late blight infects plants in the nightshade family such as potatoes and tomatoes and is most destructive during cool, moist weather. The plant’s leaves form black lesions, the affected potatoes rot in the soil, and tubers appearing hardy enough to harvest usually rot in storage. The disease can destroy an entire crop rapidly because the associated fungus produces numerous spores that can be carried long distances through the air or transported from infected plants by a variety of vectors.

The Maine Potato Board approved a temporary rule change in July allowing out-of-state pilots to make aerial applications of fungicide to Maine’s waterlogged potato fields to combat late blight.

Out-of-state aerial sprayers were never brought in, because fields in most parts of Maine began to dry out by mid-July and late blight was contained by farmers’ usual fungicide applications.

In the end, the extent of the disease was not as bad as originally feared.

The other threat to potato plants — pests — was not a significant problem this year.

Flannery said the delay in harvesting the crop could be a strain on growers next week, when many schools that break for potato harvest will go back in session.

“That will be an issue for growers, because they will need to hire help, which is not always easy to find,” he said. “But some schools may allow students to stay out longer with permission.”

Despite the rain, this season has not been a washout, he said.

“We are going to see a good crop,” said Flannery.

jlynds@bangordailynews.net

538-6567

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