Consultant: Cool temps would help potato gains
RICHFIELD, Pa. — Amid an extensive array of potato resources presented among geographically widespread presenters, crop consultant Bob Leiby’s expertise enlightened attendees at the recent Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention on what’s ahead in 2021.
Pointing to the COVID disruptions, Leiby, a consultant for PA Cooperative Potato Growers, noted that the potato industry in the Pacific Northwest lost 20 percent of their processing contracts as the market for frozen French fries tanked.
But while eating at home rose, the demand for consumer-size packaging increased. That consumption pattern is still increasing, along with expanding home deliveries of food.
Leiby said that roadside and farm market sales also have surged, bolstered by local connections.
Turning to preparation for the new season, Leiby cautioned that quality seed is particularly important. About a hundred years ago, he said that stopping variety mixing was the goal, but now the technique for testing is better. However, it is difficult for small growers to procure quality due to market scarcity. Also, the Canadian government closed the border to the United States limiting their supplies.
Leiby reported that the last two summers have been warmer and questioned whether growers will be prepared for more of the same. Planting and harvest times may need to be adjusted.
Cooler growing conditions would be helpful as well.
He shared the weather forecast pages on the NOAA website which offers three-month outlooks. The March, April and May higher than normal precipitation looks favorable for potatoes. For temperature, July, August and September has a 50 percent chance of greater warmth than normal, but with the prediction of more moisture in the Northeast during those same months, mitigation could be improved.
Leiby recommended following the weather forecasts consistently—they are continuously updated.
Regarding pests, Leiby said the yellow striped army worm appeared more often in 2019 but has produced more caterpillars last year. This pest, he said, is not normally seen that far into Northern regions.
Because that pest can generate eight generations a year, control should start immediately.
They start feeding with the leaf tissue, and after devouring the foliage, they advance to the stem, then on to the tubers. He warned growers to watch for the yellow striped army worm. Last year, he reported a 20-acre field was almost defoliated in late August. It resembled how Colorado potato beetles previously destroyed a field.
Also, during the last few years, mostly on the end rows on the variety ‘Norwiss,’ pink eye has been appearing after harvest on stored potatoes. Since it is not caused by a pathogen, it is difficult to identify and must be tested. It is now termed periderm disorder syndrome.
Leiby also noted that fungicide restrictions may be forthcoming. Plus, the industry is looking at genotypes in relation to the quest for new fungicides, especially those effective for late and early blights. In addition, he showed photos of colonized aphids, which clearly demonstrated their potential for extensive damage.
The Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association has numerous resources for potato growers. Links are available at https://www.pvga.org/potato-grower-resources.