CYR PLANTATION - Describing the consecutive number of nice-weather days at the end of September as a "blessing" for him and other growers, Dominic LaJoie of Van Buren looked over the potato house late last week as it filled up with blue potatoes.
“We can see the finish line now,” he said. “It's been an excellent fall.”
LaJoie Growers, Inc. has been growing a specialty variety of blue potatoes for the past 10 years, he said. They are a major supplier to Terra Chips, which produces exotic chips from vegetables like blue potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips and yucca. The farm produces some table stock potatoes as well, grows its own blue seed potatoes, and also produces beets for Terra Chips. The family farm has approx 900 acres planted in various potatoes and grain rotation in Cyr, Van Buren and the Keegan area.
LaJoie said that planting was late this year due to weather, but the summer went well overall, and he started harvesting smaller batches for chip orders back in August. He added that his yield this fall has been average to above average on most of his varieties.
Like many farmers, though, he had some concerns during the season.
“Things have turned out better than I expected,” said Lajoie. “I thought I’d lose them all because of the wet weather.”
Lajoie said he is hoping that what losses there are do not amount to very much. The farm has a separate storage area for potatoes that come in very wet, he said, to avoid spreading any rot.
"We won't harvest the same number of acres that were planted,' said Don Flannery, the Executive Director of the Maine Potato Board during a phone interview on Tuesday. Flannery referred to the wet summer and the impact it will have by creating areas in fields that were drowned out or are now inaccessible to harvesting equipment, contributing nothing to the yield.
"The final determination about the crop can't be done until (the potatoes) are in storage for awhile," Flannery said, adding that he estimates only about 60 percent of the crop has been harvested up to this point anyway.
Flannery said that he has heard from growers in the Valley, many of who have told him the crop looks very nice.
Dennis Pelletier of G.B. and D. Farms in St. John said that their crop of red and russet potatoes would provide a bigger yield than last year, which was very dry.
"Things seem to be OK. So far, so good," Pelletier said. "The worrying part will be storage."
Pelletier said that tuber size is very good and the quality depends on the location of the field, with some places very good and others that are "iffy."
Of the 460 acres the Pelletiers plant between St. John, Soldier Pond and Cross Lake, he expects them to eventual harvest 90 percent of the table and processing potatoes.
One of the LaJoie storage buildings will eventually hold four million pounds of potatoes harvested from the 200 acres of blue spuds that were planted this year. The storage buildings will be emptied throughout the winter and spring, said LaJoie.
The fourth generation farmer said he learns something new every year, and that he was impressed with the crop this year.
"Just when you think you have them figured out, there's something new," he said.