The Irving family has been growing potatoes in Aroostook County, Maine, since the early part of the 19th century. The Irvings are well-known for their quality spuds, but these days they’re becoming known for a specific up-and-coming variety – the Caribou russet.
Robbie Irving, a sixth-generation member of the family to farm, spoke to Vegetable Grower News.
Caribou is the name of a small town in Maine not far from the Canadian border, which happens to be home base for Irving Farms. It’s also the name chosen for a russet variety developed by University of Maine potato breeding program that’s fast gaining a reputation for its consistent uniformity and strong culinary qualities.
Caribou russets also have been marketed as Maine-grown potatoes both on packaging for retail and on restaurant menus. Irving Farms, which has its own marketing division led by Jeff Irving – Robbie’s uncle – has been at the forefront of that effort. The operation, which also is a prominent packer-shipper with 15 trucks in their fleet, has “Caribou russet” or “Maine Potatoes” imprinted on its packaging and boxing.
One area Irving Farms is ahead of the curve is irrigation. Robbie spoke of changing weather patterns in the region in recent years, which have resulted in extremely dry summer months. Fortunately for Irving Farms, there is an infrastructure in place from when Bob Irving ran the operation.
“My grandfather built pond after pond after pond,” Robbie said.
The need for irrigation water continues to grow, however. Although there are numerous man-made ponds on the Irvings’ property, they added another in 2019 – their first since 2004. They also have access to a 115-acre lake – fittingly called Caribou Lake.
Irving Farms opted for Irrigation Automation Systems, a Massachusetts-based company, for its system. The operation began using IAS’s XR-3000 in 2018. It monitors field temperature, water pressure and oil pressure to maximize efficiency.