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Maine potato farmers expecting lower revenue for smaller crop amid drought and pandemic

The rain that poured across Aroostook County in late September after one of the driest summers on record was too late to save the region’s potato farmers from a smaller harvest — down approximately 20 percent from last year, according to a report by David Marino Jr. for Bangor Daily News.

The reduced yields will drive revenue down for the potato industry, already struggling with decreased demand because of COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and events. Maine producers normally grow nearly 2 billion pounds of potatoes a year, a hugely profitable industry centered in The County, according to the National Potato Council.

Maine Potato Board President Don Flannery anticipated that crop yields per acre would be down at least 20 percent, but said he was waiting on actual numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in November.

While Flannery said growers would lose “substantial” amounts of income due to drought conditions, he said demand looks like it will remain solid for the potatoes they do put on the market — though far from pre-COVID levels.

Consumers nationwide eat Aroostook County potatoes, whether they are sold plainly in grocery stores or processed as french fries or potato chips.

But in the weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Maine in March, the potato industry struggled to find buyers amid a nationwide closure of restaurants. At one point, it looked as if farmers would need to dump nearly half of their 2019 crop, Flannery said.

Conditions improved in the spring, and Flannery said the industry is far from that initial low point — though many restaurants are operating at reduced capacity, consumers were filling in the gaps with increased takeout orders. And people were purchasing potatoes for home cooked meals.

Source: Bangor Daily News. Read the full report here

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