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Warm summer in Alaska results in good potato yields for farms with irrigation

Rob Carter, State Agronomist, Alaska

Alaska State Agronomist Rob Carter: “With a season like this, you can have record yields or record losses.
Several farms that didn’t have irrigation lost their potato yields, but farms that were able to water their crops did extremely well.”
(Courtesy: KTVA 11)

September 24, 2015
This time of year, Alaskan Potato farmer Ben VanderWeele spends nearly every morning the same way. He oversees hundreds of tons of potatoes as they’re cleaned, set on a conveyor belt and put into storage.

“We’ve got spuds. We had a good crop,” VanderWeele said.

On Tuesday morning, VanderWeele’s crews were only about halfway through this year’s harvest, but they had to wait before they could go back into the fields. Mornings have been too cold lately.

VanderWeele says it has to be at least 40 degrees for them to harvest without damaging the crop.

I am four or five days behind,” said VanderWeele, who tracks high and low temperatures.

While Tuesday morning was a chilly 26 degrees, he says the warm weather this past summer is responsible for an unusually high potato count.

State agronomist Rob Carter agrees: “With a season like this, you can have record yields or record losses,” Carter said.

Several farms that didn’t have irrigation lost their potato yields, but farms that were able to water their crops did extremely well, according to Carter.

“In the last four to five years, we’ve seen a longer growing season, earlier planting times, and warmer high temperatures during the days,” Carter said.

For VanderWeele farms more potatoes isn’t necessarily a good thing. VanderWeele says for years, demand for Alaskan grown spuds has steadily declined.

“I had been growing potatoes for 45 years and I had never had to throw any potatoes away,” VanderWeele said. “In the 2013 crop I threw a little bit away. In the 2014 crop, I probably threw 100 ton of spud away. I think it’s ridiculous.”

By the time the harvest is over, his farm will have about 2,000 tons of potatoes in storage.

He hopes increased sales will accompany his near-record crop.