Published online: Oct 16, 2011 Seed Potatoes
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WATERFORD, Pa.-Hopes for a good potato crop ended months ago in a spring marked by heavy and frequent rains.

But Waterford-area potato grower Mark Troyer didn't know just how bad it would be until he started digging in August.

Potato growers measure their production by the 100-pound bag. Troyer's profit calculations hinge on harvesting 300 to 350 100-pound bags an acre.

Troyer, who planted 550 acres of potatoes this year, said some of his fields produced as few as 80 bags to the acre. Some were better, but none were good, he said.

"It's been rather disappointing," Troyer said. "We started out with a poor stand," meaning that many seed potatoes never grew, leaving sizable gaps in his fields.

"You have trouble making a yield if you don't have plant count," he said.

Things didn't get any better as the summer wore on.

"The middle part of the summer turned so dry and hot-potatoes don't like that kind of weather," he said. "We are finding out day by day just how bad it is."

Troyer said Friday that most growers in Erie County, Pennsylvania's top potato-producing county, had wrapped up a harvest in August. Troyer said he still had fields to harvest.

But Troyer, who called this one of the worst harvests he's seen, said he doesn't have much hope left for this year.

Problems with the potato crop aren't unique to Erie County.

Heavy rains in Maine have created their own set of problems for growers there, he said.

Meanwhile, production from the Red River Valley in North Dakota, the nation's leading producer of red potatoes, could be down as much as 25 percent, according to Produce News Daily.

The problem in the potato belt was too much rain at the wrong time.

Ted Kreis, marketing director for the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association in Minnesota, estimated that more than 400,000 acres near the Red River Valley were never planted because of rainy spring weather.

There are a couple silver linings for potato growers, locally and elsewhere.

Troyer said the quality of the potatoes has been good and prices have been high-good news for growers, bad news for consumers.

But for some growers, the higher prices might be irrelevant.

Most growers contract before the season to sell a certain amount of potatoes at a fixed cost, he said.

With a smaller-than-usual crop, "It doesn't give you any extra to sell at a higher price," he said.

A poor crop isn't the only thing that's new this year for Troyer, who sold Troyer Farms Snack Foods in 2008 to Bickel Snack Foods Inc., of York.

This year, for the first time since 1967, Troyer isn't providing potatoes for the chip company that still bears his family name.

SOURCE: Associated Press