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Late rain of no value to suffering potato crop

Kevin McNeill, an employee with WP Griffin Inc., removes grass and sod from a potato bin-piler as two potato trucks unload at the company’s warehouse.
Kevin McNeill, an employee with WP Griffin Inc., removes grass and sod from a potato bin-piler as two potato trucks unload at the company’s warehouse. - Eric McCarthy

Yield expected to be down Island-wide and especially so in West Prince

MIMINEGASH

With the 2018 growing season now over, Miminegash potato grower Harris Callaghan is already looking ahead to next year.

Callaghan said his crop has suffered in drought-like growing conditions and any hope of a late recovery was snuffed out by heavy frost on September 25.

“It was just the year; they were dry and under stress and the frost came and that finished them off,” he said of a crop that will come in well below average yield.

The conditions have been such that he hasn’t had to use a drop of top kill this year. “My sprayers haven’t left the yard since August.”

Further east, Bryan Maynard, co-owner of Farmboys Inc. in Arlington is expecting an average crop. It all depended on where the rain fell, he said, noting his rain gauges showed “adequate moisture” of about 140 to 145 mil of precipitation over the summer. “We were kind of right where it ended,” he said in describing the bands of precipitation that were hit and miss throughout the region.

Gauges on a neighbour’s farm just a few kilometers away in Mt. Pleasant showed significantly less rain and he said it showed in the crop.

But even Mt. Pleasant fared better than the western tip of the province, Maynard suggested. He’s heard from farmers west of Elmsdale whose rain gauges measured about one-third the rain that fell on his farm.

While fields to the west were turning brown from the drought, Maynard said he had fields that were still green until the frost hit.

“We’re in an area that is okay, as long as a good October to get the harvest out in good condition,” Maynard acknowledged, but he thinks, overall, all across P.E.I. there are areas where the crop was under significant stress, resulting in reduced yield.

Myron Blanchard performs maintenance on a potato windrower in preparation for his 40th harvest with Blair Horne and Sons. The Bloomfield farm expects to find out as early as Monday how well its drought-resistant variety performed.
Myron Blanchard performs maintenance on a potato windrower in preparation for his 40th harvest with Blair Horne and Sons. The Bloomfield farm expects to find out as early as Monday how well its drought-resistant variety performed.

Farmers were just getting started with the harvest before Wednesday’s heavy rainfall temporarily halted those operations. Except for the odd field along Malpeque Bay that was spared frost damage and is still green, growers feel this week’s rain is of no use to the crop, but it will help soften the soil to make for easier digging.

Glen MacLean said they’ve started harvesting their seed plots in West Devon and are finding a smaller than normal run of potatoes. He’s estimating the farm’s yield will be down 25 to 30 per cent because of the arid growing conditions.

The rain, he said, is “too little too late, I’m afraid, for a lot of them.”

After a below average crop last year, P.E.I. Potato Board general manager Greg Donald said the Island is likely going to have a similar harvest, or even a bit lighter, this year. He acknowledged the western end of the province bore the brunt of the drought conditions and the crop there suffered accordingly.

He said some areas of the province got better than average yields last year. “I don’t think any area is going to have a big crop this year,” he added.

Donald knows some of the Island’s potato competitors have also had an off year. He suggested that could result in higher prices. It could just be a matter of whether growers have high enough production to capitalize on the anticipated price boost, he admitted.

Callaghan compares growing potatoes to fishing for lobster: Some time you pull the traps up and there’s nothing in them and sometimes they’re full. It’s one of the chances you take.

“I took a chance and planted something. If it doesn’t grow I can’t do anything about it,” he acknowledged.

“It’s business,” he said. “Next year might be better.”

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