County Ag Report: Planting gets off to a slow start

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine - It's not just people's gardens that are lagging this year, potato farms are behind schedule as well. In this week's County Ag Report, Kathy McCarty met with an official From the University of Maine's Cooperative Extension to discuss the delay.

Anyone who's traveled around Aroostook has probably seen many a brown field this month. It's not that crops weren't planted, it's that conditions delayed farmers from planting this year. Professor Steve Johnson, a potato specialist with the Cooperative Extension, says soil conditions have been problematic.

"One of the reasons it went in late is that our soils were very cold coming in this year. We're 10 to 14 days behind the schedule. We're 10 to 14 days behind our historic 20-year average of our soil temperature."

A few crops were planted before mid-May snow fell, and Johnson says those crops appear to be doing OK.

"It's taken 36 days for those to come out. We'd like to have 'em out in 20 or 15 days ideally, so the emergence is going to be slow, which is going to be leading to other sorts of soil-borne disease problems potential."

Johnson met with dealers / distributors this week, who were concerned about this year's efforts to control weeds. Like the potatoes, weeds are growing slowly, not actively taking up herbicides, which could mean more weeds later on.

"I do the late blight forecasting, and for almost all of my time doing it in the last 25 to 30 years, I've used the 15th of June as a 50 percent emergence date. We are not there now on the 20th. We should be in a few days, but we're, again, a weekish behind."

Johnson says this week's rain is definitely needed to help speed up the growing process. He says with the right conditions, the potato crops could catch up, but only time will tell.