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    Last summer, Maine potato farmers were dealt too much rain, which led to blight and rot.

    This year, the farmers are struggling with the opposite extreme: too little rain, which is stunting the potatoes' growth and will hit farmers' wallets hard this fall.

    Like the corn crop in the Midwest, Maine potatoes are withering, but they're underground and out of sight, so how poorly they're doing is a bit of a guessing game.

    The crop, most of which will be harvested this month, is expected to be smaller than normal, both in total yield and the sizes of individual potatoes. And that means not only fewer potatoes to sell, but also a loss of premiums -- bonuses that processors pay for potatoes that are larger or heavier than normal and are particularly attractive to french fry producers.

    Those premiums are the key to a profitable season.

    "We won't get any of those bonuses,"lamented Matt Porter, who farms about 700 acres on plots between Washburn and Presque Isle and said he expects that, at best, he will break even this year.

    Porter's not alone in fretting over the crop. Farmers all across Aroostook County, particularly the southern part of the county, are preparing for a poor harvest when they begin pulling potatoes from the ground next month.

    June was wetter than normal and so far, the rainfall for the year is actually running a little ahead of average, said meteorologist Rich Norton of the National Weather Service's Caribou office.

    But just 1.73 inches of rain fell in July, less than half the average, he said. And into the last week of August, only about 2 inches had fallen for the month, and the average for the month is more than 3 inches.