August is a critical month for the growth of potatoes. With harvest occurring in September, at this time the potato fields already have blossomed and the tubers start to grow from petite new potatoes into full sized ones — if there’s enough rain, that is.
With abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions affecting the state over the last month, especially in northern Maine, the Maine Potato Board said the size of this year’s yield will likely be down from previous years.
“It’s just been really dry,” Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, said. “When you have a dry year it doesn’t necessarily affect quality but it affects the yield.”
Last year’s drought affected growing conditions in most parts of the state through late fall, however it spared northern Maine from the worst of the drought conditions. The 2016 potato harvest was close to a record breaking yield, producing about 310 pounds per acre statewide. The year before that, the state logged its highest potato yield on record with 320 pounds per acre, according to Flannery.
But the Maine Potato Board doesn’t expect that to be the case this year, given the trend in dry weather.
“We’re not going to break another yield record by any means,” Flannery said. “But August is a big month.”
Flannery said the plants have held up to the dry weather over the last month, which means if the rain does come in August, the plants are healthy enough to absorb the water it needs and hopefully bulk up the tubers.
Potato growers with irrigation systems have been utilizing that infrastructure over the last four to six weeks Flannery said, not just in northern Maine but across central and southern Maine as well.
Unlike last year, the abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions this summer are located primarily in northern Maine, according U.S. Drought Monitor reports, where last year’s drought did not have such a severe impact.
“There is nothing you can spray on a potato crop to compensate for the lack of water,” Flannery said. “No matter if you’re in the potato business or the carrot business, whatever business you’re in in agriculture, Mother Nature is pretty tough at times, and you have to deal with that.”
The true scope of the impact that this summer’s dry weather will have on the statewide yield per acre of potatoes won’t be known until harvesting time in September. Until then, Flannery said, growers can only hope for rain.