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Growers hope to avoid a repeat of 2018 season

Rains already set P.E.I. potato crop behind

At a time of year when Prince Edward Island farmers would normally be flat-out busy, most of their equipment is sitting idle as they wait for a break in the weather.

Harris Callaghan, a potato grower from Miminegash, estimated spring planting in western P.E.I. is already at least a week behind schedule, and if the weather doesn’t soon turn, they’ll be two weeks behind. He’s already eyeing a sunny forecast for Thursday; hopeful of getting on some of his drier fields before the end of the week.

Production is already lagging a little behind 2018, Callaghan said, pointing out farmers contended with a late spring last year, too. “It’s a risky business. You take chances. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. That’s the way it is, and there’s no point complaining about it."

“It’s getting frustrating,” said P.E.I. Potato Board general manager Greg Donald, who is all too familiar with last year’s growing season which got off to a late start and then felt the effects of drought-like conditions, followed by an extremely soggy harvesting period and early frost. As a result, Donald said, over 7,000 acres out of a total P.E.I. crop of 86,000 acres, went unharvested. That’s in addition to a high cull rate for small and mis-shaped potatoes.

“The stakes are high,” Donald said, pointing out the production cost is more than $3,000 per acre. “There’s lots of hardship after last year.”

While conditions looked favourable at the start of the month, with optimism for a normal planting season, conditions have turned wet and cold. Donald estimates fewer than five per cent of the 2019 crop is in the ground, and he said fewer than 100 acres have been planted west of Portage.

The rainy and cool weather has also been bad for Nova Scotia farmers. The lack of sun and warmth and the excess of rain is causing havoc for farmers who need to get crops in the ground as well as those who have already sown the fields. Some say the weather has set them back up to four weeks.

Philip Keddy, of Charles Keddy Farms in Kings County, who is also president of Horticulture Nova Scotia, said he has two or three days left to get strawberry plants in the ground for them to be ready to be dug up and shipped to Florida on Sept. 20.

“Normally we’d be done two weeks ago,” he said. “I don’t have time to wait. They have to grow every single day until they’re harvested,” he said Tuesday. “Every day like today I’m losing yield. I have a window [for harvesting to ship south] that I have to follow no matter what.”

He said he harrowed a piece of land Saturday night until 11 p.m. to get it ready for planting the next day, “and by Sunday night when they were finishing, it was raining again. We’re just getting these short little windows of opportunity.”


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