Quality up, volumes down for PEI spuds

09/12/2012 11:52:00 AM
Andy Nelson

russet potatoA dry, hot summer on Prince Edward Island has been good for quality, but yields and sizing will likely be down. Early September rains, however, will give many spuds a growth spurt.

The rains will help PEI burbanks more than goldrushes, which harvest earlier, said Gary Linkletter, president and co-owner of Linkletter Farms Ltd., Summerside, Prince Edward Island.

Some growing regions of the island got up to 4 inches about Sept. 5, then up to 6 inches Sept. 9 and Sept. 10, said Greg Donald, general manager of the Charlottetown-based Prince Edward Island Potato Board.

Some fields that got 4 inches from the first rain got 5 inches from the second, he said. But because the ground was so dry, and because of the island’s sandy soils, there was little concern of damage to plants or higher risk of diseases or pests, and any harvest delays should be short.

While early varieties may not get much benefit, the rains will definitely help spuds that still have some growing to do, Donald said.

“They do a lot of sizing at the tail end of the growing season.”

Overall, yields will likely be slightly below average, with early varieties particularly light, and sizing smaller than normal, said Brian Beaton, potato coordinator for the Charlottetown-based Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture.

“A lot of the crop is under quite a bit of stress,” Beaton said. “For about a month it didn’t grow much.”

Potato acreage on the island is up about 4% from last year, but because of the dry, hot weather, volumes won’t be higher, Donald said.

The silver lining, Beaton said, is that growers haven’t had to worry much about late blight and other disease and pest pressure this season.

Quality should be excellent because of the absence of diseases and pests, Linkletter said. Linkletter Farms expects to send its first harvester into fields about Sept. 20, with the second harvester to follow about Sept. 27.

Linkletter Farms will likely ship classic russets into February, goldrushes into April and burbanks into the summer, Linkletter said.

Harvest should begin in earnest for most growers by about the first week of October, Beaton said.

With the big U.S. crop, and the Belgian potato crop down this season, Caribbean markets could be more attractive to PEI growers this season, Linkletter said.

A strong Canadian dollar presents another hurdle to island growers looking to export to the U.S., he said.

On the bright side, lighter crops in eastern Canada and the eastern U.S. because of the hot, dry weather could help offset the expected big volumes out west, Linkletter said.

“We hope the market will reflect that.”

Acreage increase in Idaho and other growing states, combined with higher transportation costs, will likely weigh heavily on PEI grower-shippers this season, Beaton said.

“It’s definitely a concern.”

On Sept. 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $5.50-6 for 50-pound cartons of russet norkotahs 40-70 from Idaho, down from $20-21 last year at the same time.



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