FORT KENT, Maine — It’s potato harvest time in northern Maine and thanks to one of the longest stretches of nice weather since midsummer, farmers from one end of Aroostook County to the other are looking to get as much of their crop in as they can while the the sun shines.
“Probably after this weekend 65 percent of the [crop] will be out of the fields,” according to Tim Hobbs, director of development and grower relations with the Maine Potato Board. “You can dig a lot of potatoes if you have good weather.”
And a lot of potatoes are dug every year in Maine.
According to the Maine Potato Board’s 2012 industry review report, farmers in Maine produced just over 1.65 billion pounds of potatoes last year.
And, while those production numbers are down from an industry high of 1.92 billion pounds in 2004, Hobbs said Maine is still very much a national player in potato production.
“We are sixth in the country for production by acres,” he said. “It is still a tough business to be in.”
According to the industry report, Maine fell a spot nationally this year as the state was fifth in production for 2012, behind Idaho, Washington, North Dakota and Wisconsin, respectively.
Idaho is by far the biggest potato producer in the country, providing almost 35 percent of the overall crop, according to that report.
Maine, on the other hand, was responsible for just under 6 percent of the nation’s potatoes in 2012.
For this year Hobbs said he anticipates the state’s production to be down about 500 acres from last year, due largely, he said, to slight reductions in contract orders.
Acreage in production has been dropping steadily since 2003 when 66,000 acres were in production.
Last year 58,000 acres were planted, and numbers are not yet available for the current season.
The quality of those potatoes, Hobbs said, looks very good.
“Everything looks great now that we are seeing some decent weather,” Hobbs said,. “The early part of the harvest was wet and rainy but since last Wednesday the guys have been digging straight through.”
Over at the Raoul Caron Farm in Fort Kent, harvest was in full swing Saturday afternoon.
“It’s looking really good,” farmer Dale Caron said from the seat of his John Deere tractor, taking a break from pulling the mechanized harvester. “I am hoping we can get done tomorrow.”
Farmers around The County were a bit nervous at the start of this year’s harvest in mid-September when the area found itself under five days of steady rain.
“We lost four or five days at the start,” Caron said. “But then the weather cleared and it turned out in our favor.”
One grower, Hobbs said, told him this stretch of more than a week of sunny days is the longest period of consecutive dry days since July.
“They were really fortunate to get this weather,” Hobbs said.
September, according to the National Weather Services office in Caribou, was the third wettest on record for Caribou with just over 7 inches of rain.
For the moment, the harvest appears to be on schedule, Hobbs said, with many farmers putting in long hours before predicted rain hits the area this week.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that farmers in Maine produced just over 16.5 billion pounds of potatoes. It is 1.65 billion pounds. Additionally, it was reported this was down from an industry high of 19.2 billion pounds in 2004. It is 1.92 billion pounds.