The crew at Daniel Corey Farms in Monticello takes advantage of a warm night in October to continue loading harvested potatoes into storage. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Corey Farms

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — For at least one Aroostook County farmer, this year’s potato haul tops even the record 2021 season.

Dan Corey of Daniel Corey Farms, which operates in Monticello, Island Falls and Elkton, Florida, said prime weather during growing and harvest seasons gave him his best crop ever.

When Maine’s 15 other counties experienced drought this summer, Aroostook lucked out with regular rain, warm days and cool nights, which is what potatoes love. Those good conditions, coupled with little interference from pests and disease, mean the state’s top crop will remain No. 1.

Last year’s record crop was 20 percent larger than normal, and sales increased by more than 36 percent, topping $209 million. Though industry officials weren’t sure it could happen again, Corey has already run out of storage space.

“I’ve been doing this close to 40 years. This was probably one of the best growing seasons in my career, and probably the biggest crop I ever harvested and the biggest potatoes,” Corey said.

Though a few growers have had exceptionally large crops and are scurrying for extra storage, the overall industry isn’t seeing quite the unsurpassed picture it did in 2021, said Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board.

“I think when the USDA comes out with yield numbers, we’ll be above average, but I don’t think we’ll be above what that record yield was last year,” Flannery said.

Corey’s farm plants more than 1,000 acres of potatoes in Monticello, about 280 at its early generation seed farm in Island Falls and 300-plus acres at its Elkton, Florida, location.

While most farmers saw a stellar yield last year, Corey had a bit of trouble with 6 to 7 inches of late-season rain just before the potatoes went into storage, which resulted in some crop damage, he said.

This year, all the elements came together: early planting, good moisture for growth and a temperate harvest, and the potatoes are all safely in storage — well, all of them that would fit.

The operation recently purchased another farm, and thus had some extra storage to work with. They filled all of it.

After every nook and cranny was packed, they still had potatoes left over, Corey said. So they shipped them to Florida for fresh market, or tablestock, use.

“Yes, we ran out of storage. And I love it,” Corey said.  

Growers have reported good quality of the crop, Flannery said.

Unlike in 2020, when drought plagued Aroostook as well as the rest of Maine and hot weather actually halted harvesting a few times, this growing season wasn’t excessively warm, there was adequate moisture and harvest weather was favorable.

Pests and diseases remained low throughout the season as well, according to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, which issues weekly condition reports until harvest time each year.

“When you put good quality into storage, that generally means good quality coming out of storage,” Flannery said. “There is no downside to this story.”  

Something of note this year is the steady rise of the Caribou Russet, a variety released seven years ago and developed through the Aroostook Farm in Presque Isle and the University of Maine Potato Breeding Program.

The number of acres of Caribou Russets planted for all purposes — fresh market use, seed potatoes and processing into fries, chips and other products — has continued to increase, Flannery said.

Exact numbers are unknown until the USDA releases its potato data for the season.

With harvest wrapped up, the shipping season has barely begun. But on average, more than 60 percent of Maine’s spuds go to processors like Penobscot McCrum in Washburn, McCain Foods in Easton, Pineland Farms in Mars Hill and New Gloucester, and Frito-Lay.