Grow­ers chal­lenged

With weather less than ideal, farm­ers say there’s still 15 per cent of the crop in the ground

Journal Pioneer - - FRONT PAGE - BY ERIC MCCARTHY

Bryan May­nard re­calls fin­ish­ing up the har­vest on his Ar­ling­ton potato farm on Oct. 23, last year.

This year, on Nov. 7, the coowner of Farm Boys Inc. was wait­ing for fields to dry enough so that his crew could get back to har­vest­ing the 30 per cent of their crop still in the ground.

“It’s go­ing to be a long sea­son, for sure,” he ac­knowl­edged. “Usu­ally, 21 to 25 good days would har­vest our crop, eas­ily, and I don’t think we’ve had 14 so far,” he ex­plained. “We need an­other good week.”

He was hop­ing to make the most of two days of good weather be­fore more rain is fore­cast to fall on the sat­u­rated fields this week­end.

Fur­ther west, in Alma, Wen­dell Dun­bar said he’s down to his last 20 acres or so.

“The first few rains didn’t hurt too much. Ac­tu­ally, it helped,” he said of the early Oc­to­ber pre­cip­i­ta­tion that fol­lowed an arid grow­ing sea­son. “But now it’s be­yond that.”

Be­sides the del­uge of rain over the past month, the fields have en­dured some cold nights. “We need help,” Dun­bar said, sug­gest­ing crop in­sur­ance will not even cover cost of pro­duc­tion. He’d like to see the P.E.I. Potato Board be­come vo­cal about what he views as a dis­as­trous crop. Be­sides deal­ing with poor har­vest­ing con­di­tions, Dun­bar said this year’s poor grow­ing sea­son has him har­vest­ing only “half-a-crop.”

Back on May­nard’s farm, the farmer said the yield in his area is rel­a­tively good, but he sym­pa­thizes with grow­ers fur­ther west, like Dun­bar, where grow­ing sea­son was the dri­est he’s seen in a long time.

He said the crop Is­land-wide will be im­pacted by the rain and the frost.

“I’ve heard a statis­tic that there was 30 per cent of the crop left on P.E.I. when those con­di­tions be­came re­ally se­ri­ous,” he said.

P.E.I. Potato Board gen­eral man­ager Greg Don­ald said the lat­est es­ti­mate has 15 per cent of the Is­land’s crop, ap­prox­i­mately 13,000 aces, still in the ground as of Wed­nes­day.

“A lot of them would have fin­ished by the end of this week if we didn’t have yes­ter­day,” he said of heavy rain­fall on Tues­day. Fac­tor in 20-some days in Oc­to­ber of hav­ing vary­ing amounts of pre­cip­i­ta­tion and some morn­ings when it was too cold to dig, and the rea­son for the late har­vest be­comes ap­par­ent. Don­ald noted Char­lot­te­town re­ceived 170 mm of pre­cip­i­ta­tion in Oc­to­ber, about 60 per cent more than nor­mal. And con­di­tions haven’t im­proved this month.

He said the Is­land has re­ceived a month’s worth of rain in the first week of Novem­ber. Don­ald said over 80 per cent of the potato acreage is cov­ered by crop in­sur­ance and, while he calls the pro­gram help­ful, he ad­mits it does not cover the full cost of pro­duc­tion.

The dry sum­mer and wet fall have made this any­thing but an av­er­age year, and Don­ald said that will likely be re­flected in the over­all yield, which he ex­pects to be com­pa­ra­ble to last year. He noted the 2017 yield was be­low nor­mal, and in­di­cated yields this year are low­est in west­ern P.E.I. De­mand for Is­land pota­toes, Don­ald said, is strong.

May­nard de­scribed this year’s har­vest as tor­ture for farm equip­ment, farm work­ers and for the trav­el­ling pub­lic. “It’s not good for any­one, but this is what Mother Na­ture’s dealt us and it’s what we have to deal with.”

ERIC MCCARTHY/JOUR­NAL PI­O­NEER

Two windrow­ers move through a potato field at Profit’s Cor­ner Tues­day morn­ing be­fore rain forced the equip­ment to stop. Wet con­di­tions are mak­ing the har­vest­ing of the 2018 potato crop par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing.

ERIC MCCARTHY/JOUR­NAL PI­O­NEER

Ad­di­tional heavy equip­ment is parked with idle potato equip­ment along the Gard Road in West Prince on Tues­day.

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