Bret Butler of Butler Farms poses in front of the growing pile of potatoes he was storing in October at Loring Development Authority as a backup to his maxed-out potato houses. Butler Farms reported Monday that their potatoes have all successfully gone to market. Credit: Hannah Catlin / Aroostook Republican

LIMESTONE, Maine — Emergency potato storage on the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone saved the day for some local farmers and could lead to a beneficial ripple effect to Aroostook County’s premier industry.

The story is one of the COVID-19 era’s bright points. After a drought in 2020 and pandemic slowdowns in trucking, no one expected the 2021 harvest to be so huge, but the right combination of weather and soil conditions expanded the yield beyond expectations.

With this year’s record harvest — about 20 percent larger than usual — farmers scrambled to find space to store the crop. Thanks to the Loring Development Authority, three farmers were able to use space at Loring, an arrangement LDA President and CEO Carl Flora said just may lead to further developments.

“We could see some additional spinoff activity that resulted from the urgent accommodation needs that we really didn’t even think about at the beginning,” Flora said Monday.

In the case of one of the farmers utilizing storage space, Loring Development Authority is exploring the potential for a future longer-term agreement which is still in the discussion phase.

Flora said he believes there are still some potatoes on site.

Loring Development served three farmers for the fall potato harvest: Butler Farms of Caswell, Guerrette Farms of Caribou — which desperately needed emergency storage — and Triple G Sales of Limestone, which already leased space at the site.  

“I think they were very happy to have access to the facilities, and we hope it made a difference to them that they were able to get those potatoes shipped to market,” Flora said.

Getting the spuds to where they could be sold proved its own challenge, with transportation slowdowns and a driver shortage that affected growers around The County.

“We had some delays and had a hard time getting trucks,” Robert Butler said Monday. Though the situation might be marginally improved, it’s still an issue.

But the farm has said goodbye to the last potatoes they had stored at Loring, and Butler said the extra space was a godsend.

“It was a blessing. There was no other place to go with them,” he said. “They probably would have wound up staying in the ground.”