There are two seasons in potato production: the growing season and the storage season. Each need ongoing attention and management; each can make or break your final returns. I see growing season as the forward line on a hockey team, putting points on the scoreboard, and storage season as the goalie, protecting from loss. Each is critical to the final outcome of the crop production game. This year, storage season is going to be especially critical. Terrible weather hit many fields from almost every angle leading up to and during harvest, which means farmers should expect tuber storability to be reduced.
The potato harvest season started warmer than normal in many regions. Tubers harvested during those early days and weeks of harvest likely went through suberization warmer than the 50 – 55 F ideal, since few storage buildings are equipped with cooling capacity. Warmth translates to higher disease potential and significantly lower long-term storability. The warmth was compounded for some by excessive field moisture: another major step towards disease development.
Following the warm start, the weather took a turn to the bitterly cold side in October across a huge swath of the Canadian Prairies and the northern United States’ best potato-growing acres. The cold and snow reduced or ended harvest for many farmers; farmers who were able to get harvest in following the wintery weather may have to contend with inconsistent pile temperatures, poor tuber drying and/or frost damage.If you’re among the lucky farmers who have a bin full of high-quality potatoes, do everything you can to maintain that quality because they will be in high demand come spring.
Most experts recommend that all potatoes, especially in a year like this, get treated with a sprout inhibitor in fall. The window is closing to apply CIPC: if an application isn’t on by early January at the latest, switch to a rescue product or DMN instead.
Expect tubers to push earlier and harder toward sprouting this year. While some farmers don’t worry much about a few sprouts, they need to realize the direct cost sprouting incurs. Every time you have a peeper, imagine it as a little chimney coming out of your potato, and out of that chimney flows money because that’s what you’re losing as the potato loses water. Rescue options like 1,4 Zap do exist. That said, it’s always better to be ahead of your tubers than playing catch-up, since once a potato reaches a certain physiological maturity, sprout inhibition is incredibly difficult no matter how effective the product.