It’s been a year since First Coast News started following a local farmer, sharing with you his successes and struggles. When they started this story, First Coast News had no idea the troubles farmers would face because of a pandemic. This is the final installment in this story, showing how the weather is an age-old challenge for farmers and how Covid is something new. With a thousand acres of potatoes, spuds are the main source of income for the Jones family in Florida.
What a mess: Some British potato growers muddle through harvest after fifth-wettest October since 1862
Potato harvesting has once again been affected by wet weather, with widespread rainfall in recent weeks hampering grower efforts to get the crop out of the ground. According to the Met Office, the UK experienced the fifth-wettest October since 1862 last month. It included the wettest day on record for average rainfall (31.7mm) on 3 October. Key processors McCain and Lamb Weston both spoke of challenging conditions in East Anglia, parts of which saw close to 200% of their usual average rainfall in October.
The race is on to get this year’s Scottish potato crop harvested as growers battle their way through drenched fields and muddy conditions. The 2020 season in Scotland has been one of extremes, with one grower describing potato farming this October as “drudgery”. Fields were too dry at the start of the season with some growers irrigating crops because dry conditions meant potatoes getting bruised as they came through harvesters. Growers are now facing the opposite problem – significant rainfall since the start of the month has left harvesters sitting idle in sheds or struggling in sticky fields.
Canadian potato production will decline this year, possibly by six percent or more. Last year, Canadian farmers produced 106.4 million hundredweight of potatoes. The 2020 crop could be around 100 million cwt. “The biggest decrease in yields will be in Eastern Canada…. Also, Western Canada yields are not what they (expected),” said Kevin MacIsaac, United Potato Growers of Canada general manager. Yields are down substantially in P.E.I. and New Brunswick because growers don’t have irrigation systems.
Kenya: Potato-legume intercropping can decrease soil erosion, improve moisture retention, boost yields
The potato-growing belts in sub-Saharan Africa have experienced steady increases in heat stress, irregular rainfall, persistent droughts, high soil erosion rates and recurrent floods. Researchers Nyawade Shadrack, Elke Vandamme, Michael Friedmann and Monica Parker report on two potential roles of potato-legume intercropping: (i) improved control of soil erosion to make potato production more sustainable in the highlands; and (ii) optimizing soil temperatures, soil water contents and soil nutrient balance thus enabling potato production in the drier midland agro-food systems.
The planet just recorded its hottest September since at least 1880, according to three of the authoritative temperature-tracking agencies in the world, reports Andrew Freedman in an article for The Washington Post. The data, most of which was released Wednesday, shows that 2020 is on track to be one of the hottest years on record, with the possibility of tying[Read More…]
The potential of the potato has only just begun to be realized, writes Sandra Cordon in an article published by Landscape News. Sandra writes that some 368 million metric tons of potatoes were harvested globally in 2019, as people from Vietnam to Kenya, the Peruvian Andes to Rwanda produced a wide variety of the root vegetable, helping feed an estimated 1.3 billion people who rely on them as a staple food. In step, researchers around the world are hurrying to find ways to increase the quality and yield from potato production through targeted varieties better suited to local weather and soil conditions.
This year’s potato harvest was met with an unrelenting drought that diminished crops and tied up water resources for Aroostook County, Maine farmers. “We’re in trouble,” said Kevin Grass as he steered a 15-ton potato harvester forward while jotting down notes on the crop and monitoring his crew — tasks he’s come to master simultaneously over the last 30 years. “Our yields are way off.” Potato yields at Grass Farms are down a third this year, and its seasoned farmers point to the drought as the driving force. “I’ve seen dry spells but nothing like this,” said Duane Grass, 77, a third-generation potato farmer.
Aroostook County is experiencing a drought of historic proportions, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture declaring The County to be a drought disaster area. Rivers have dried up considerably, and potato crops, as with other crops in the area, have suffered due to the lack of water, reports Alexander MacDougall for Bangor Daily News. The USDA has made Aroostook farmers, as well as those living in adjacent counties, eligible for emergency funding.
The study “Evaluation of the socio-economic impact of climate change in Belgium” commissioned by the National Climate Commission has just been published. According to the authors of the report, global climate change in Belgium will mainly be felt through heat waves, floods and droughts. Warmer and drier summers, and milder and wetter winters are becoming the ‘new normal’. The increasing impact of drought on potato cultivation is a main concern for the potato fry industry, according to the authors of the report.
As the first day of fall arrives, the potato crop in the country is in varying stages of growth and/or harvest, writes Kevin MacIsaac in the latest Canadian crop update issued by the United Potato Growers of Canada (UPGC). The general manager of UPGC says the production outlook is mixed after parts of Eastern Canada experienced one of their driest seasons on record, while growers in Western Canada work feverishly to harvest their crop from the ground after Mother Nature’s early onset of winter prevented them from doing so last year.
Many potato fields across Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) are not in the condition they are usually at this time of year due to the hot and dry conditions for much of July and August, reports John Robertson for CBC News. He reports that the Canadian Drought Monitor had much of central P.E.I. in extreme drought condition as of Aug. 31. While there has been more rain in September, in the first half of the month it is only about half of normal rainfall.
Wageningen UR in the Netherlands is now offering a PhD research opportunity – in principle a 4-year PhD position – for the study of potato sustainability. This project is said to be about understanding the effects of extreme weather events on potato development and on the yield and quality of the tubers. These effects can be viewed in relation to soil quality management and its implications for crop climate resistance and nutrient-use efficiency.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) says a combination of heavy rainfall and poor management of rivers by local river agencies, has led to unnecessary field flooding and potato crop destruction in areas of Northern Ireland. UFU deputy president William Irvine said: “A large amount of rain has fallen across the country in recent days and while we are unable to control the weather, the lack of river management has been the catalyst causing field flooding and widespread damage of crops in the process.
The ADAPT project aims at identifying new breeding targets and matching potato varieties to specific challenging environmental growth conditions of the future, according to a press release issued by the University of Vienna. The ADAPT consortium has successfully launched the project “Accelerated Development of multiple-stress tolerAnt PoTato”, which aims at developing new strategies to make potatoes fit for the challenging growth conditions of the future. It will take place over the next four years with a total budget of 5 million Euro from the EU Horizon 2020 program.
Potato blight has raised its ugly head in parts of the UK late in the season, following a spate of turbulent weather, Corteva Agriscience’s field technical manager for potatoes, Craig Chisholm, reportedly received a flurry of calls from growers and advisors on how to protect crops late in the season. Catchy weather may well extend the intervals between spraying blight fungicides, so we are advising growers to use a product that will protect the canopy for 10 days,” he advised.
Potato farmers are worried about their crops as the northern part of the state experiences one of the driest summers on record. In Aroostook County, which is experiencing a severe drought, there has been no heavy rain since before Memorial Day, potentially reducing the yield, said Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board. The dry weather in northern Maine also stretches into New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, two potato-growing Canadian provinces.
Maritime farmers are starting to call this summer’s lack of rain “disastrous”. Famous for its potatoes, Prince Edward Island produces over a million kilograms of spuds every year, but this year is different. Over the last three months, some areas of P.E.I. have only received 15 per cent of its usual rainfall. Estimates suggest the harvest will be down 25 per cent — at a minimum. “Put that in perspective,” said Greg Donald, the general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board. “For all the potato farmers in P.E.I., that would be more than a $50 million dollar loss.” But there’s not much they can do to save their season.
Late processing varieties are reportedly lower than the multi-year average yields in Belgium, but processed products are said to be of excellent quality. This became clear during trial digs of the Fontane and Challenger varieties. According to a report by Nieuwe Oogst journalist Han Reindsen, samples were taken on 10 and 11 August to evaluate the yield and quality of Fontane and Challenger. The total yield is said to be lower, but fry quality is good.
Years of mismanagement, corruption and increasing population led to the loss of at least 75% of farmland in Second Village in Egypt and the surrounding areas, according to Abdel-Fattah el-Aweidi, head of Gazaer Qouta Agriculture Association, overseeing the area. Now, it is feared that a dam Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile, the Nile’s main tributary, could add to the severe water shortages already hitting farmers severely if no deal is struck to ensure a continued flow of water.
Harvest of Ontario’s fresh market potatoes continues, but not without some heat-related issues, according to Eugenia Banks, potato specialist with the Ontario Potato Board. Banks relays that one Simcoe grower says the incidence of second growth and misshaped tubers is high. This observation is also echoed by other fresh-market growers in Ontario. The heat wave earlier this summer disrupted the physiology of potato plants, resulting in knobs, sprouts and off-shaped tubers.
The humble spud, staple of the British dinner table, has weathered storm, flood and lockdown, but farmers are on tenterhooks ahead of the crucial growing season for the key crop as the UK heatwave is followed by thunderstorms and deluges. Farmers are desperate to avoid a repeat of last year, when good growing weather over the summer was followed by heavy rains in some areas from late September that left the ground too sodden to harvest for months, spelling disaster for many potato growers.
Farmers on Prince Edward Island are struggling in what they say is a very dry growing season, according to a report by the CBC. The Island has had a lot of hot, dry days and not much rain — in some cases, just 20 per cent of what’s normal. CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland says spring and summer have been very dry, especially in western P.E.I. The potato crop is struggling in some parts of the Island, as rainfall throughout the summer has been spotty.