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‘A weird year’ for P.E.I. potato harvest

Arlene McKenna, from left, Audrey Gray and Catherine Blanchard scan Ranger variety potatoes crossing a grading table at a storage warehouse in Alma Tuesday. They were expecting their employer, Craig and Johnny Wallace, to complete the 2017 harvest by Wednesday.  ©JOURNAL PIONEER/Eric McCarthy
Arlene McKenna, from left, Audrey Gray and Catherine Blanchard scan Ranger variety potatoes crossing a grading table at a storage warehouse in Alma Tuesday. They were expecting their employer, Craig and Johnny Wallace, to complete the 2017 harvest by Wednesday. ©JOURNAL PIONEER/Eric McCarthy

Although the digging was easy, a dryer than normal year is resulting in an average to below average yield but good prices for the crop

Prince Edward Island’s potato harvest is down to its final few hundred acres.

P.E.I. Potato Board general manager Greg Donald estimated Monday there are probably fewer than a dozen growers with potatoes still in the ground. If the weather co-operates, he figures they’ll all wrap up this week.
An unseasonably clear October has put the harvest ahead of schedule, even with many farmers having delayed the start of the harvest to give their spuds the opportunity to size up more following a dry summer.

Despite the dry weather, Donald said some growers, especially in eastern P.E.I. and some parts of central P.E.I., are reporting average yields. Yield, however, is down in western P.E.I., where the least amount of rain fell.

John Griffin estimates the yield for WP Griffin Inc. is down about 20 per cent this year, and the yield for most of the growers, who supply his company’s packing house, is likely down 15 to 20 per cent, but he is appreciative.
“With the dry weather, it’s a wonder we got any yield,” he reflected.

As of Monday, the Griffins still had about four days of digging to go. They took four days off last week to allow the remaining portion of their crop to mature and got back at it Monday morning, only to call it a day early once the rain started.

In previous years, at this time in the season, “we'd probably be pushing harder,” Griffin said, but he noted conditions are still very dry, leaving him with little doubt about wrapping up this week.

In Cascumpec, Jason Rayner said the Rayner Brothers harvest wrapped up on Oct. 23 and could have finished a week earlier if the potatoes had been ready.

“It was a weird year.”

To compensate, they started their harvest a little later than normal and finished around the usual time. While the yield was off for some varieties, Rayner said he was pleasantly surprised with the yield from a new variety of reds.

Meanwhile another variety lagged.

“It’s probably one that needed the rain a little bit more than the rest,” he said.

He described the harvest as an easy dig but admitted it was hard to compare as it was their first season since 1981 with a new harvester.

Rayner admitted growers could have done with more moisture as it would have allowed more dirt to go up the chains with the spuds.

“We’re virtually done; it’s been a beautiful fall,” Donald acknowledged.

With everything going into storage dry, he doesn’t anticipate storage issues.

He’s thinking positive on price, too, noting prices are currently trending similar to last year, which he described as good.

Donald said there is no indication of big crops anywhere in North America. One of the largest producing states, Idaho, actually cut production this year and then didn’t have a good growing season.

With processing expansion in New Brunswick, he said there is likely to be stronger demand in the processing sector regionally.

“It looks like the supply is tighter,” he said, suggesting that should help with price.

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