P.E.I. potato harvest better than last year's 'nightmare,' but not without challenges

The 2019 harvest saw mixed results for potato producers across P.E.I., depending on where they farm, but for most, it was an improvement over last year's tough season.

More than 1,000 acres will not be harvested this year, mainly in western P.E.I.

Now that the harvest is over for 2019, the crew at Farmboys is putting away the equipment for the winter. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The 2019 harvest saw mixed results for potato producers across P.E.I. depending on where they farm, but for most, it was an improvement over last year's tough season.

Island farmers left almost 7,000 acres, or 2,700 hectares, of potatoes in the ground last fall after heavy rain and cold temperatures ended the harvest. At this time last year, Kyle Maynard and his brother Bryan pulled the plug on the 2018 harvest.

"We would have been calling it quits, more or less giving up on what we had," said Kyle Maynard, co-owner of Farmboys, a potato operation based in Arlington, P.E.I.

"We had about 260 acres remaining in the ground at this time last year, and there was no chance we were going to get it."

Kyle Maynard, Farmboys co-owner, says it was a big sigh of relief to finish the harvest in 2019, even though there were a few fields that were too wet. (Submitted by Kyle Maynard)

"It's something that you don't ever want to do, it was just a nightmare," Kyle Maynard said.

"You never want to go through that again, but you struggle through and move on."

Last year, the Maynards left 260 acres of potatoes unharvested. (Submitted by Bryan Maynard)

This year, the Maynards were able to dig almost all of their potatoes, except for a couple of spots that were just too wet to harvest after heavy rains before and during post-tropical storm Dorian.

"It was a big sigh of relief, that's for sure," said Kyle Maynard.

"We still left some acres, but compared to what we left last year, it was down to one to two per cent instead of 20 per cent."

'Return the favour'

The Maynards were also able to help out some of their neighbours, the way those neighbours came to their aid in 2018, when they were able to harvest 120 acres of potatoes in one day.

"It was the biggest day we've ever had on the farm, we basically dug 10 per cent of our entire crop in one day, so it was unheard of," Bryan Maynard said.

"That's how hard people were working. It was an amazing thing to see."

Bryan Maynard, Farmboys co-owner, says he will always remember the way other farmers rallied to help them harvest last season. (Submitted by Bryan Maynard)

"We were lucky enough to be able to go help some people this year and see if we could return the favour," said Kyle Maynard.

The P.E.I. Potato Board estimates there are more than 1,000 acres that will not be harvested this year, mainly in western P.E.I., where fields were saturated.

Storage problems

And now, there are other challenges to face.

"We had a wet, wet fall, a lot of the potatoes that are in warehouses now, a lot of farmers are going to have problems with storage," said Kyle Maynard. 

"We got through the first hurdle of harvest, but now the storage problems are going to start."

The wet conditions during the harvest mean some farmers are now worrying about storage problems. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"They are in under cover, they're in our control," said Bryan Maynard. 

"But it's going to require a very, very watchful eye to keep things under control and to continue to monitor things very heavily."

'A better fall'

Overall, the P.E.I. Potato Board says the crop on the Island will be "average" in 2019. 

"I would say overall, definitely a better fall, a better harvest than last year," said Greg Donald, general manager of the board. 

"Last year was unprecedented, in terms of the weather we had, and the amount of crop that remained unharvested, it was very devastating."

Donald said this season was similar to last year, with a cool wet spring, a delay getting the crop in the ground, a hot, dry summer, but then — post-tropical storm Dorian.

The Maynards didn't get all of their potatoes, but left behind one to two per cent, compared to 20 per cent last season. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"The western half of the Island, the week before Dorian, some places had over three inches, or 90 millimetres of rain," Donald said. 

"Then Dorian put over five inches, or over 125 millimetres rain, in some places so the ground was just saturated."

Donald said some early varieties could have used more rain, making it a mixed bag of yields across the province. 

Short supply, strong demand

Donald said producers who are selling on the open market, and not on contract, will be watching prices, as other potato-growing regions across North America have struggled because of the weather, including Manitoba and Idaho. 

This is one of the fields that the Maynards were able to harvest successfully in 2019. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"The supply situation in North America is very low this year and that's going to translate into strong demand," Donald said.

"So that will be favourable in terms of pricing."

Donald said the final harvest numbers will be released by Statistics Canada on Dec. 6.

More P.E.I. news 


Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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