It’s potato harvest season, and as storage bins throughout the Beeton, Ont. area begin to fill up with mounds of taters, some farmers are finding themselves in a bit of a high-wire act to ensure they don’t lose their crops.
Mark Vanoostrum, the supply and quality manager for W.D. Potato in Beeton, said the chipping potatoes harvested so far are revealing the effects of all the wacky weather the area experienced this past summer.
“The season was really wet and cool, which is good for growing potatoes, but it’s also good for disease,” he said. “So we have a lot more disease in the storage crop right now.”
One of the big challenges is making sure the potatoes don’t sit too long and turn bad, so timely co-ordination of shipments to potato chip companies is critical.
“These potatoes we are putting in now have to supply us until July of next year, and if there is rot in the potatoes today, they are not going to keep that long,” he said.
Not only did the spring flood cause some of the local farmers to lose up to half of their crops, a large number of potatoes are coming out of the ground green as a result of sun exposure. Vanoostrum said this was caused during the flooding after dirt was washed away from the fields.
“They are unmarketable at that point and are considered cullage,” he said.
Farmer and potato scientist Peter VanderZaag, who operates Sunrise Potato Storage north of Alliston and who also grows chipping potatoes, said the week-long heat wave at the end of September really threw a wrench into his harvest operation.
“It was so bad for everything we had put in storage, some of them were dicey,” he said. “Some people had trouble with their bins. Our potatoes were OK but we barely made it.”
He said farmers run into problems when temperatures hover around 20 C or more.
“It makes things all the worse for bacteria and fungi to multiply and cause infections wherever there is a little bruise in the potato,” he said. “It will infect those areas, enter into them and cause rot.”
Thankfully, the return of autumn weather has allowed his workers to return to the fields, and he’s expecting a good yield.
Some small spots were washed out due to excess rain, but other areas made up for those losses.
“We’ll be filling our building right up,” he said. “We’re going to be short on space, I can see that coming now.”
The heat wave also stalled harvesting at W.D. Potato for about a week.
Vanoostrum expects all of the potatoes to be collected over the next two to three weeks, assuming Mother Nature co-operates.
Any more delays and he said farmers could be reaching a “critical point.”
“If it freezes again, or if it starts to rain more, then the yield is just not dug, and maybe the potatoes freeze in the field,” he said. “We can’t get them out, and if there’s too much rain we can’t work in the fields.”