Growers report from around the country
A relatively mild spring has followed an equally mild winter, report potato growers from around the country.
While growers in the northern temperate regions complete their planting, growers down south have begun harvesting.
I caught up with Florida grower Danny Johns while he was taking a break from harvesting his spuds last week. Johns said that the season started out warm and dry but on Feb. 15, a major freeze took everything back to scratch. Johns said harvesting potatoes hit by the freeze had just been completed — and they were pretty rough. He said that as they get into the fields that were not affected by the freeze, he's seeing better yields. But even those yields are fluctuating due to the dry season.
North Carolina's Tommy Fleetwood, executive director of the North Carolina Potato Association, said that growers began planting in mid-February and finished by the end of March. Harvest will begin around June 10.
"We're in bloom right now," Fleetwood said. "The crop is beautiful. Good stands. I think growers are anticipating a good harvest if we can get some timely rains between now and then."
Farther north, Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, said growers are just beginning to plant. While the snow has been gone for a long time, temperatures never warmed up. Given the conditions, Flannery said that most growers would probably be planting this past week.
In Michigan, Don Sklarczyk said that though the warm weather was a month early, most growers exercised restraint and held back planting for two to three weeks.
"Michigan is so diverse," Sklarczyk said. "Some areas plant in March and other areas are planting in May. I would say everyone is at normal or a little ahead of normal. Some growers slowed down or even stopped planting so they wouldn't get too far ahead of the normal cycle."
Wisconsin researcher A.J. Bussan said that growers in the Badger state took advantage of the warm spring to get their planting done early. With 80-degree days the first two weeks of March, Bussan said that it was the earliest planting season he has seen in Wisconsin.
"We had farmers done planting on the same date that they began planting last year," Bussan said. "We have some guys that are just finishing and most commercial production is wrapping up, which is seven to 10 days early."
In the Red River Valley, Justin Dagen was busy planting soybeans when I spoke with him. He's planning on planting potatoes the coming week.
"Fantastic planting season," Dagen said. "Overall, we're ahead of schedule."
Dagen estimated that 80 percent of processing and chip stock was going to be in the ground by May 11. Warm and dry conditions continue to prevail in the Red River Valley, Dagen said.
"It's the ninth month of below-average precipitation," he said. "It's dry, but now, critically dry."
Nina Zidack, director of the Montana Seed Potato Certification Program, said that a few Montana growers had just begun planting the first of May. She anticipated that was going to pick up this past week with everyone planting in the coming week.
"Weather forecast is beautiful," Zidack said. "I'm hearing good reports on seed health coming out of storage."
In Colorado's San Luis Valley, Roger Mix was busy planting when I spoke with him on May 7. Mix said he was close to being done and if the weather holds, he thought he would be finished by the end of the week.
"We started planting on the 30th (of April) this year," Mix said. "We're probably a little bit ahead of last year. The warm weather has helped. A few people finished planting last week."
It was cold with a light rain when we spoke, but Mix said he wasn't complaining about the rainfall.
"We need moisture. We're still behind for rainfall," Mix said.
In Oakley, Idaho, Randy Hardy said he had finished planting around April 27— a little earlier than normal. He attributes being ahead of schedule to a new, more efficient planter and peer pressure from other growers planting early.
Now he's concerned that three consecutive days of hard frost could stunt the crop.
"Hope they keep their little heads in the ground," Hardy said.
In eastern Washington, Rex Calloway said that he had just completed planting on May 2. Calloway's planting schedule took a few days longer than he anticipated due to an increase in contracted acres combined with days lost to rain.
"We had a nice planting season," Calloway said. "Crop went in really well. Warm temperatures during the day, cool at night."
When we talked, Calloway said that nothing was emerging yet. However, with predicted temperatures of 80 degrees this past week, he expected that to change soon.