Maine potato growers watching fields after wet spring

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff
Posted June 07, 2013, at 6:46 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Industry leaders with the Maine Potato Board and growers across the state are eyeing their fields after a wet spring has left some farmers hoping to still see successful growth despite soggy conditions.

More rain is expected in Aroostook County and other parts of the state this weekend, according to the National Weather Service in Caribou.

Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board in Presque Isle, said on Thursday evening that despite an “extended spring,” most growers got their crops planted on time or should be finished by the end of the week.

How much of an impact the extended spring and recent weather will have on the crop are yet to be determined, he said. “We likely won’t know until we are further on into the season.”

According to information provided Friday by the National Weather Service in Caribou, May featured above normal precipitation in most areas of northern and eastern Maine. The most rain occurred from May 23-26, when widespread precipitation of two to four inches fell in those areas, with local amounts of four to five inches in parts of eastern Aroostook and coastal Washington counties. Standing water was common, according to the National Weather Service, and many streams and creeks flowed out of their banks.

More than 5.5 inches of rain was observed in Caribou, which was 2.18 inches above normal. It was the wettest May in Caribou since 1984, according to the weather service, and the fourth wettest May since officials began keeping record in 1939.

Flannery said that last weekend’s heavy thunderstorms also affected growers in the St. John Valley, especially in the areas around Van Buren and Hamlin. The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado touched down in the area on Sunday, June 2, leaving a path about 50 yards wide and 80 yards long about two miles north of Eagle Lake. There were no reports of damage to structures.

“Most areas got an inch or two of rain that made their fields wet, but Hamlin and Van Buren got heavier rain,” said the executive director. “They suffered crop losses from seeds washing out of their fields.”

In June 2011, potato growers dealt with crop losses of 25 to 30 percent due to excessive weather and three tornadoes that went through The County.

Growers were forced to leave some potatoes in the ground and in the potato houses due to rot. Heavy rains associated with the tornadoes destroyed crops in some fields and washed away the topsoil in many others. 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.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and former Sen. Olympia Snowe successfully secured $400,000 from the Farm Services Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Emergency Conservation Program to help 50 farmers whose farms were damaged.

Flannery said on Thursday evening that growers planted approximately 55,000 acres of potatoes across the state this year, which is down slightly over last year due to market conditions.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/06/07/business/maine-potato-growers-watching-fields-after-wet-spring/ printed on July 25, 2014