AROOSTOOK COUNTY, Maine — Local agricultural growers are predicting a higher quantity and quality of potato crop than was produced in 2020, due to the less severe weather this summer.
Last year, severe drought conditions brought on by below average rainfall throughout Aroostook County resulted in yields of 20 percent less than the 2019 crop. But despite days of record heat this summer, the overall weather pattern has been much more ideal for the growing season.
This past August saw a record amount of severe heat. There were 17 days of temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit and three days of temperatures of more than 90 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Caribou.
But the cooler than average July, with the highest daily recorded temperature of 84 degrees, helped to keep the potato crops growing on schedule, Don Flannery, president of the Maine Potato Board, said.
“Potatoes don’t do much growing when it’s 90 degrees during the day and 70 at night, but we didn’t have a lot of that weather,” Flannery said.
Aroostook County experienced an average rainfall of 8.8 inches this summer, 2.9 inches below average, compared with 6.1 inches in summer 2020, which was 5 inches below average.
Farmers are hoping that September remains dry enough to not cause issues in the fields, Bee Chim, crop specialist and agronomist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said.
“When potatoes become wet, that causes issues with storage and makes the crops more susceptible to diseases,” Chim said.
Thus far potato crops have largely avoided diseases during this year’s growing season. Though blight was recorded in August for a small section of northern Aroostook, it did not spread to other areas, UMaine crops specialist Steve Johnson said. No other disease outbreaks have been detected.
While the full harvest season is not expected to begin until late September, roadside stands have popped up and many farmers have begun to supply potatoes to local processing plants and potato chip factories throughout the United States.
As long as temperatures remain average and rainfall consistent, the potato harvest should be on track to produce yields greater than last year’s, Flannery said.
That would be welcome news for an industry that suffered from lower demand and excess food last year due to restaurant closures. At one point, farmers were giving away their potatoes rather than have them go to waste. Unlike last fall, the greater number of restaurants operating at full capacity has led to increased demand for Aroostook potatoes.
“[With higher yields] we’re going to be in a better position to provide that product than we were last year,” Flannery said.