There’s still hope for decent potato yields after Tropical Storm Erin brought rain to the province last week.
For the third year in a row, farmers have had to deal with hotter, drier weather, particularly in August. This lack of rain had farmers nervous about how yields would be come harvest time.
For some varieties, the rain comes just in time, but this isn’t the case for all potato crops.
“For the earlier maturing varieties, it might be too late,” said Greg Donald, general manager of the PEI Potato Board. “They’re getting close to maturity, and the dry weather certainly had a negative impact on them, but the mid to later season varieties, like Russet Burbank, they’ve still got plenty of time to bulk up, and this rain will certainly be beneficial.”
Mr Donald said weather has been very dry over most of the Island, and warmer than normal. He added that the central part of the Island, like the Summerside and Kinkora areas, had a fraction of the normal precipitation in both July and August.
Glen MacLean, operator of MacLean Farms Ltd. in Coleman, describes this as being an average season for the farm.
He said there was about two weeks where the weather was too dry, but he doesn’t think it will have any significant impact on yields, especially after the rain last week. He said the farm is looking at an average crop this year.
“This was about 40 millimetres that we got here, so that should actually finish the crop,” he said. “The rest of the season, even if we got very little rain from here on in, the crop would be finished.”
One thing that’s different about this summer is western PEI is normally the driest part of the province, but Mr Donald said this year it got more rain than other areas.
When asked if he’s worried about whether the hot dry weather the province has experienced over the last two summers is becoming the new norm, he said it already is the new norm.
“It’s definitely a concern,” Mr Donald said. “That’s why things like water is important for irrigation, research, with the continual looking for new varieties, and the many efforts to improve soil health as well that will allow soils to improve so they’ll hold moisture longer as well.”
Mr MacLean said it’s hard to tell whether or not this is how weather will be in the summer from now on.
“This year is more like a typical year,” he said. “Whether the last several years have been a cycle of lower (yields) and coming back again, or if this was just a fluke year in a series of dry years, you can’t really tell yet.”
While early crops will be impacted, there’s still potential for the fields that came through the dry spell and are later maturing.
Mr Donald said he’s optimistic at this point that there’s potential for at least an average crop, but whether it’s better or worse than average will depend on the weather over the next few weeks.
“Farmers do the very best that they can and control the things they can control,” he concluded. “Unfortunately Mother Nature is the uncontrollable variable, and it’s been particularly challenging and continues to be a challenge.”