PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Last fall, Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, summed up the entire growing season as “challenging.” He is applying the same words to the months since, as Aroostook County growers deal with crop losses of 25 to 30 percent due to excessive weather and three tornadoes that went through the area early last June.
“We lost some product through the growing season as growers had to leave some potatoes in the ground,” he said Monday. “And we lost them in the potato houses due to rot. It was all due to the weather. Everyone was impacted. Some more than others, but everyone was impacted.”
There were approximately 56,000 acres of spuds planted last year.
Although industry leaders don’t know for sure yet, they believe that 25 to 30 percent of the crop was unable to be salvaged after heavy rains associated with the tornadoes destroyed crops in some fields and washed away the topsoil in many. Once the topsoil is gone, the productive yield of acreage is reduced dramatically and the value of the land can plummet.
Subsequent erosion created deep gullies in a number of fields, and the rain and resulting damage also suffocated seeds.
In one instance, a potato field on Woodland Center Road in Caribou became so flooded the runoff spilled over onto the roadway.
Last July was the wettest recorded in northern Maine, according to the National Weather Service in Caribou.
Meteorologists said that Caribou got 7.93 inches of rain that month, breaking the old record of 6.83 inches set in 1957. June was also a record-setter, with 9.03 inches.
By comparison, Bangor had 2.9 inches of rain for the month, which is about 35 percent below normal.
“You can imagine what a struggle it has been for the growers,” said Flannery. “But the good thing is we aren’t losing any more potatoes. The growers in central Aroostook were more impacted than the growers in southern Aroostook. But I think that everyone is happy that this season will soon be over and we can start anew in May. I think everyone wants it behind them.”
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe successfully secured $400,000 from the Farm Services Agency at the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Emergency Conservation Program last July to help 50 farmers whose farms were damaged.
Although Flannery said the season has been a setback for some, he doesn’t think that it will put anyone out of business.
“It was just a tough year,” he said Monday.