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P.E.I. farmers say 15 per cent of crops still in ground due to weather

Two windrowers move through a potato field at Profit’s Corner Tuesday morning before rain forced the equipment to stop. Wet conditions are making the harvesting of the 2018 potato crop particularly challenging.
Two windrowers move through a potato field at Profit’s Corner Tuesday morning before rain forced the equipment to stop. Wet conditions are making the harvesting of the 2018 potato crop particularly challenging. - Eric McCarthy

ALBERTON, P.E.I. - Bryan Maynard recalls finishing up the harvest on his Arlington potato farm on Oct. 23 last year.

This year, on Nov. 7, the co-owner of Farm Boys Inc. was waiting for fields to dry enough so that his crew could get back to harvesting the 30 per cent of their crop still in the ground.

“It’s going to be a long season, for sure,” he said.

“Usually, 21 to 25 good days would harvest our crop, easily, and I don’t think we’ve had 14 so far. We need another good week.”

He was hoping to make the most of two days of good weather before more rain is forecast to fall on the saturated fields this weekend.

Further west, in Alma, Wendell Dunbar said he’s down to his last 20 acres or so.

“The first few rains didn’t hurt too much. Actually, it helped,” he said of the early October precipitation that followed an arid growing season. “But now it’s beyond that.”

Besides the deluge of rain over the past month, the fields have endured some cold nights.

“We need help,” Dunbar said, suggesting crop insurance will not even cover cost of production. He’d like to see the P.E.I. Potato Board become vocal about what he views as a disastrous crop.

“It’s not good for anyone, but this is what Mother Nature’s dealt us and it’s what we have to deal with.”

Bryan Maynard

Besides dealing with poor harvesting conditions, Dunbar said this year’s poor growing season has him harvesting only “half-a-crop”.

Back on Maynard’s farm, the farmer said the yield in his area is relatively good, but he sympathizes with growers further west, like Dunbar, where the growing season was the driest he’s seen in a long time.

He said the crop Islandwide will be impacted by the rain and the frost.

“I’ve heard a statistic that there was 30 per cent of the crop left on P.E.I. when those conditions became really serious,” he said.

P.E.I. Potato Board general manager Greg Donald said the latest estimate has 15 per cent of the Island’s crop, approximately 13,000 aces, still in the ground as of Wednesday.

“A lot of them would have finished by the end of this week if we didn’t have yesterday,” he said referring to the heavy rainfall on Tuesday.

Factor in 20-some days in October of having varying amounts of precipitation and some mornings when it was too cold to dig, and the reason for the late harvest becomes apparent. Donald noted Charlottetown received 170 mm of precipitation in October, about 60 per cent more than normal. And conditions haven’t improved this month.

He said the Island has received a month’s worth of rain in the first week of November.

Donald said over 80 per cent of the potato acreage is covered by crop insurance and, while he calls the program helpful, he admits it does not cover the full cost of production.

The dry summer and wet fall have made this anything but an average year, and Donald said that will likely be reflected in the overall yield, which he expects to be comparable to last year. He noted the 2017 yield was below normal and indicated yields this year are lowest in western P.E.I.

Demand for Island potatoes, Donald said, is strong.

Maynard described this year’s harvest as torture for farm equipment, farm workers and for the travelling public.

“It’s not good for anyone, but this is what Mother Nature’s dealt us and it’s what we have to deal with.”

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