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P.E.I. potato farmers seeing 'best growing conditions' in years

Wednesday, August 4th 2021, 11:58 am - 'So far so good, we're off to a great start'

As far as growing seasons go, the P.E.I. Potato Board says this summer is one of the best they've seen in years.

It's largely the result of prime growing conditions — steady rain and favourable temperatures — and farmers are hoping this keeps up right through to the harvest.

Greg Donald, general manager of the board, says potato farmers are happy, excited and optimistic as their fields flourish in these conditions.

"Many of them are saying to this point it's probably some of the best growing conditions that they can remember," he said.

"We've had adequate moisture, we've had good temperatures and we've had great great growth to this point."

Potatoes closeup PEI Cody MacKay CBC This growing season has been going well, and if it keeps up like this farmers will be excited to harvest come autumn. (Cody MacKay/CBC)

That's in contrast to 2020; a year that Donald said was terrible, from planting season on.

The Island was hot and dry last summer and periods of drought left yields down considerably in some areas, from 20 to 25 per cent to upward of 35 per cent in parts of central P.E.I.

But this year, consistent amounts of rain have bulked up many potatoes, with some reaching their minimum market size already.

'THE MORALE OF EVERYBODY IS MUCH HIGHER'

Despite having favourable conditions in the fields in 2021, Donald is quick to say that there's lots left in the growing season. So while farmers are excited, they're hoping these conditions keep up and carry them right to harvest in October.

"It's always a little bit about what's next," he said. "So far so good, we're off to a great start."

PEI farmer in a field Cody MacKay CBC 'So far so good, we're off to a great start,' Greg Donald says. (Cody MacKay/CBC)

That's in contrast to 2020; a year that Donald said was terrible, from planting season on.

The Island was hot and dry last summer and periods of drought left yields down considerably in some areas, from 20 to 25 per cent to upward of 35 per cent in parts of central P.E.I.

But this year, consistent amounts of rain have bulked up many potatoes, with some reaching their minimum market size already.

'THE MORALE OF EVERYBODY IS MUCH HIGHER'

Despite having favourable conditions in the fields in 2021, Donald is quick to say that there's lots left in the growing season. So while farmers are excited, they're hoping these conditions keep up and carry them right to harvest in October.

"It's always a little bit about what's next," he said. "So far so good, we're off to a great start."

Jonathan Waugh farms with his father and brother at Willard Waugh and Sons just outside of Summerside, toward North Bedeque. Conditions have been so favourable there, he said, that the irrigation equipment in his field hasn't been used once this season.

A sign he and Donald said is promising.

"It's been a welcome change. Definitely the morale of everybody is much higher, spending no time so far irrigating any of the crop," he said.

"We've had row closure, we've been able to trap the moisture down in the soil and not have any exposed red soil, weed suppression has been excellent."

When the rows close in, the entire field is shaded. The leaves are getting the sunshine they need, but it will stay moist and cool around the roots. There's less evaporation, so the plants need less rain as the summer progresses.

Compare that to last year's growing season, full of "a lot of sleepless nights," Waugh said.

The canopy didn't close the rows, plants weren't able to hold the moisture and "the stress was high in the plant, so the quality was off too … the furthest from an ideal growing situation that we would like to see."

Luckily this year's been going well. If it keeps up like this, he said, farmers will be excited to harvest come autumn.

Harvest takes place in October and usually runs for a few weeks. Waugh said excitement is building and they're ready to get the crop out when the time comes.

"It's nice to see that there's excitement, that will drive everybody's passion going forward."

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