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County AG Report: Seed Decay and Rot

County Ag Report: Seed Decay
Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 9:18 AM EDT
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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (WAGM) - The end of the potato planting season is quickly approaching. While it may seem like we’ve had a lot of rain during the first half of the month, rainfall totals are actually closer to average. In this week’s County Ag Report, Rob Koenig found out some of the issues the county has seen with seed decay and rot, and what issues we’re still facing as we head into this season.

Potato planting season has been underway for weeks now.  Summer begins in less than a week and while we’ve been closer to average climatologically this season, it may not seem like it when compared to the last couple of years. Steve Johnson is an extension professor with the University of Maine. He has been keeping track of the potato crop here in Aroostook County for many years.

“Historically, my first 25 years here, we had a wet May, a wet June. You could count on rain on the fourth of July, and then it wouldn’t rain the rest of the month of July. A nice crop would come off and do that. Recently we’ve had Julys with no rain, we’ve had Julys with 20 days of precipitation, so there’s feast or famine on that.”

Johnson found one of the main causes for concern during the planting season has been above average temperatures with a good amount of rain before or following the heat. The warmer temperatures create prime conditions for bacteria and fungus to form on the seeds.

”The seed decay is an increase over what we’ve seen… The black leg that we see, and what we’ve been dealing with for the past 7 years, has ebbed and flowed, and is more of an emergence.  We’ve had a lot worse emergence issues spottily than this. We’re having some now. I hope that I’m wrong, but we could be seeing some more in the next week or ten days based on what was planted, based on the weather, based on that.”

Johnson went on to say that while we did see a similar pattern with well above average temperature days back in mid-May, he doesn’t think it will have as big of an impact as it has over the past couple of years.

“I think in many cases some of the early May seed failures, they were re-planted. Some of the late ones this year, I know some that didn’t come up, or they had a very low emergence where they re-planted… Potatoes are popping out of the ground. It’s a tough time to put them in a week from now and expect a result that is going to be profitable, and the margins are thin.”

Johnson adds while he can’t make a prediction for the upcoming season, since there are several factors that could still determine how the season goes. He hopes that farmers will continue to monitor planting conditions and be mindful of how the forecast can affect the chances of seed decay.

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