January 29, 2020
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Maine potatoes expected to be in ‘strong demand’ after frosts stunt western harvest

Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times
Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times
Courtany Hanley fills a bucket with red potatoes at the farm of Tom and Albert Fitzpatrick Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, in Houlton.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — It’s looking like people across the country may be eating County potatoes in the new year.

Cold weather has led to poor potato harvests across the United States and Canada, Bloomberg reported Monday. Hardest hit were growers in Manitoba, Minnesota and North Dakota, who had to abandon fields of potatoes laced with frost. Other farmers, including those in Alberta and Idaho, were only able to salvage some of their damaged crops.

Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, which promotes Maine’s potato industry, said that the poor harvests would create a “strong demand” for Maine-grown potatoes. He said processors had likely already acquired surplus potatoes — those exceeding established contracts with growers — grown in the state because of shortages elsewhere.

But he said he doesn’t think the change in the market will substantially affect pricing, as the price of most potatoes grown in Maine is contracted “before you even plant them.” As for surplus potatoes, only a slight change seems likely.

“The price didn’t double for the potatoes that were open,” Flannery said. “There might have been an incremental price increase, but it wouldn’t be sustainable.”

Flannery said that while many in the potato industry had known about the “terrible weather” in several potato-producing parts of North America, the recent news surprised some. He said it had dominated discussion at a meeting he attended of industry representatives in Ottawa earlier this week.

Flannery, who knows many of the growers affected by the poor harvests, said that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent the potatoes from being unusable.

“Everyone in the potato industry has had one or more of those falls,” Flannery said. “It rains, and it’s cold. You leave potatoes in the ground. It has happened before, and it will happen again.”

Andy Yaeger, a Presque Isle-based member of the sales team at Smith’s Farm, who is responsible for potato sales at the produce company, said that the poor harvests are good news for potato growers across Maine.

“Because of a shortage of potatoes in those areas, buyers will have to look elsewhere to keep a supply through the winter,” Yaeger said. “I think they are going to be looking to Maine.”

Yaeger said that he believes all types of potatoes grown in The County and across Maine will see an increase in price because of poor harvests elsewhere. While he said it’s difficult to predict when the price shift will occur, he expects it to be evident around January.

While Yaeger was excited about the positive effect this will have on his own business, he said it was a “shame” that it had to be due to the setbacks of other producers.

Besides being roasted, mashed or baked, potatoes are also used for potato chips, french fries, gnocchi, hash browns or latkes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture valued all potatoes sold in 2018 at $3.75 billion.

Maine’s potato industry is dominated by the Agricultural Bargaining Council, which negotiates between local growers and buyers throughout the country.

 


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