This season has brought a number of challenges to Wisconsin’s potato industry, says Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association Executive Director Tamas Houlihan.
The spring was good, he said, but then the Memorial Day weekend frost nipped some potato plants. The extreme heat and drought-like conditions came along in June. July, Houlihan said, was back to normal, but August brought rain. Luckily, he said, September was a good month for harvest. Potatoes need to be cool when dug — below 70 degrees. Potatoes will break down in storage if they’re too warm.
Potatoes are about three-quarters of the way harvested in Wisconsin, according to the latest USDA crop progress report. Despite the issues with the weather, Houlihan says he expects an average yield and good quality come end of harvest in mid-October.
Houlihan also talks about the workforce and supply chain issues facing growers. He says potato producers are starving for help. Because the labor shortage is such a challenge, he says farmers are adjusting to more technology and larger equipment to make up for lack of workers.
Beyond potatoes, Houlihan says peas, beans, sweet corn and onions did well this year. People stocked up on canned and frozen veggies during the pandemic, all of which have been on the decline in years prior. These intakes helped Wisconsin’s potato and vegetable industry when food service went down during lockdowns. Now that restaurants and hotels are getting back to full capacities, it’s helping not only Wisconsin, but states out West that rely more heavily on the food service industries.