Late rains help PEI spud crop

10/31/2011 02:29:00 PM
Andy Nelson

A “boom or bust” cycle of rain, then drought, then more rain turned out well for Prince Edward Island potato growers, who expect good quality and little late blight pressure.

The only wrinkle in 2011-12 could be undersized burbank russets.

Early fall rains dumped as much as 7 inches on some Prince Edward Island potato fields, said Greg Donald, general manager of the Charlottetown-based Prince Edward Island Potato Board.

It came after a month and a half in which almost no rain had fallen on the island, Donald said.

“We wished for some rain, and we got a lot of it,” he said.

“Digging in the last week of September, not much clay was coming up on harvest equipment, and growers worried about bruising.”

A lot of rain, but not too much, Donald said. The ground was so dry, even 7 inches didn’t flood fields.

“The russets needed that rain late to size up,” he said.

Burbank russets, which are harvested toward the end of the deal, still need to do some sizing up, but earlier varieties were yielding well, Donald said.

The quality of the crop as of mid-October was excellent.

Before potatoes took advantage of the rain, they took advantage of the sun and heat from mid-August through the end of September, Donald said.

Unseasonably heavy rains early in the season raised the annual island spectre of late blight disease.

Aggressive treatments by growers, and the warm, dry weather that followed in late summer, more or less took care of the disease risk.

“Growers really went at it,” Donald said.

“They did a really good job, and then the weather shifted. If the weather hadn’t shifted, I think we’d have disease issues.”

Island growers expect to harvest about 84,500 acres of potatoes this season, 1,000 fewer than in 2010. Most of that decline, however, is in processing, Donald said.

Even with the harvest delays — first from drought, then from rain — most growers expected to finish up by the end of the month, which is normal for the island.

“We always lose a few days,” Donald said.

Linkletter Farms Ltd., Summerside, Prince Edward Island, was among the island growers that had to stop harvesting because the ground was too hard from drought, said Gary Linkletter, president and co-owner.

“The rain was good,” he said.

In mid-October, however, harvest still ran about a week behind schedule, Linkletter said.

Harvest could run into November, though Linkletter hoped to finish by the end of October.

“We’d like to be half done, but we’re only about a third done,” he said Oct. 14.

With harvest half over, yields were average, and Linkletter expects a normal-sized crop. Sizing on russet burbanks, however, was on the small side as of Oct. 14.

“The burbanks are a little disappointing so far,” Linkletter said, though he stressed the burbank harvest was still in its early stages as of mid-October.

Rain fell again late the week of Oct. 7, but most fields were still dry enough to soak it up without incident, said Brian Beaton, potato coordinator for the Charlottetown-based Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture.

“The crop looks pretty good,” Beaton said Oct. 20.

Just “pretty” good because he, like others, wishes there were more jumbo russets, especially from fields in th



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