Maine’s potato yield this year, particularly in Aroostook county, is booming following last year’s disappointing production all thanks to better conditions for farming. There has been more consistent and timely rain this past year as opposed to the drought farmers faced in 2020 along with an excessive amount of warm weather which was detrimental to the potato crops.
COVID-19 brought a unique set of challenges to farmers last year too. Schools and restaurants in Maine are some of the top potato-consumers in the state, but last year many of these facilities were not open. Farmers had nowhere to sell the little harvest they did have, making farming less profitable than it usually is.
Although it is wonderful to see the potato farms bustling again, the farmers still face one big issue this year. Due to the national labor shortage there may not be enough people to help harvest all the potatoes creating a secondary issue of storage. In fact, the Bangor Daily News reports that there is such a bump in potato production this year that some farmers are resorting to putting their crops in airplane hangars. Bret Butler, who works for Butler Farm, had already bought a new potato house to store his extra crops in, but had to think outside the box when he filled that storage area up too.
An article from Oct. 14 from the Bangor Daily News reported on the lack of space. “Truckloads of Butler Farms potatoes arrived at the base on Wednesday, where employees used huge conveyor belts to fill the football field-sized military storage facility he’s renting. And with 150 acres left to dig, Butler thinks he may need to find even more storage,” Hannah Catlin reported.
One major issue with storing the potato crops in these facilities is that airplane hangars and similar storage locations lack climate control technology. It’s recommended that potatoes are stored at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. With the unusually warm temperatures that northern Maine has faced in October though, the potatoes were being kept at temperatures 10 degrees above their recommended temperature.
Potato farmers like Butler are optimistic about this crop. As he stated in the Oct. 14 article to BDN, he feels that because there is an excess of potatoes they may be able to compete with markets outside of Maine. States like Idaho, which are known for their potato production, have faced a drought and unfavorable weather conditions this year. This creates a window for Maine farmers to expand their market.
Rain has a complicated impact on the potato harvest every year. Greg Porter, a University of Maine professor of crop ecology, explained to News Center Maine how finicky the potato crop can be.
“With timely rain, I think we are all hoping and expecting we will get a bigger yield. We don’t want it to get carried away, that’s the problem in the Northeast. Sometimes we wish for rain and then we get too much, and with potatoes… too much rain can cause quality problems,” Porter said to News Center Maine.
Although a surplus of potatoes is causing a different set of issues than last year’s failed crop harvest, potato farmers are excited to see their industry booming again.