Maine Hopes for Better Potato Season

Published online: Jul 13, 2021 Articles
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Source: News Center Maine

Fields in northern Maine's Aroostook County are starting to get full of many white, purple, and pink flowers. It's the time of year where people start to see potato fields in full bloom.

Potato plant flowering is an important stage of the crop because it's when the plant starts forming tubers.

By September, hundreds of Maine potato farmers will be harvesting most of the crop, a crop that was hit hard last year by record drought, record heat and COVID-related problems, such as restaurants and schools being closed.

This year, growers are anticipating a bigger and better yield thanks to favorable conditions.

"With timely rain, I think we are all hoping and expecting we will get a bigger yield. We don't want it to get carried away, that's the problem in the northeast. Sometimes we wish for rain and then we get too much, and with potatoes...too much rain can cause quality problems," said Greg Porter, University of Maine crop ecology professor.

One of the owners of Flewelling Farms said last year its yield was down because of the severe drought and heat, but this year, the weather seems to be on a right track. 

"As long as I've been alive, I've never seen the kind of heat and lack of rainfall that we got in my lifetime, and I hope I never see it again," said Nick Flewelling, co-owner of Flewelling Farms in Easton.

"There's optimism that there will be a good supply here, a good quality of potatoes and that the market will be there to take those potatoes," Porter said.

Flewelling said one of his major concerns is a lack of help, which is something he is facing right now, months before the crop is ready to harvest.

Having a good crop is one thing, getting it out of the ground is another. Farmers say they expect to have a serious lack of help, come harvest time.

"Years ago when harvest would come around and the schools would let out, we'd have half a dozen to a dozen kids come," Flewelling said. "We just can't find people to come and help us."

17-year-old Ben Currier said he's been working at the farm during the past three harvests, Currier says the skills he learned and the money he earned makes the job all worth it.

"Don't be shy, most farmers are willing to teach you," Currier said. "How to drive truck, how to drive a tractor, how to load potatoes, how to ship them,"

This fall, Flewelling Farms hopes to harvest 1,000 acres of potatoes.

"Compared to last year, this year we couldn't ask for anything better. Hopefully, the industry and we can bounce back a little bit and recoup some of the losses from last year," Flewelling said. 

"We have to have good growing conditions from here on out, to really get the best of all those tubers that are forming right now," said Porter.

The Maine Potato Blossom Festival in Fort Fairfield is this week!

The 12-day long festival celebrates agriculture in Aroostook County, especially potatoes. It runs until Sunday, ending with the fireworks finale.

More details of the Maine Potato Blossom Festival can be found here.