Tough growing conditions, cover crops, wireworm, and blights — a potato-themed LIVE! Q&A with Ryan Barrett


You can bake them, fry them, roast them, or boil them, sure, but before potatoes make it to your table, this crop requires some serious agronomic knowledge to grow.

For this episode of RealAg’s LIVE! stand-in host Kara Oosterhuis is joined by agronomist Ryan Barrett, with the PEI Potato Board. From disease risk, to acidic soil, to wireworm issues, and cover crop options, Barrett shares what it takes to get spuds through a growing season.

RealAg hosts a LIVE! Q&A on a timely topic each weekday on social media at 1 pm M/3 pm E!

  • Gorgeous weather now, but you never know what will happen on the east coast after Thanksgiving
  • It was a challenging growing season on PEI, very dry year
  • Some farmers only say 10 mm of rain from planting until end of August, and that doesn’t make for a great potato crop
  • Supply is down for the province, yes.
  • Fresh potato vs processing potato differences?
  • Early days of the pandemic — there was lots of stress, with warehouses full of potatoes, and processors weren’t taking potatoes. Homeless potatoes! Did it impact plantings? Somewhat, it created a lot of uncertainty.
  • Things did start to improve, and demand shifted slightly.
  • Drive-throughs are open, but the food service business is down significantly
  • Fresh market prices are good, and processors, growers got a bit of a boost earlier this year
  • What’s your fave potato? Roasted! Red skinned potatoes are best for roasting
  • What’s grown in PEI? So many kinds! Potatoes grown for processing into potato chips, hashbrowns, etc., also for table (fresh market potatoes, tiny to larger), to big baking potatoes, and seed potatoes, too.
  • The one benefit of a dry year — lower disease risk. In a normal year: spraying every 7 to 10 days to protect the crop. Late blight was non-existent. And saved on fungicide! Yay! Early blight is a fungal problem, too. White mould can be an issue. “Early dying” = nematodes and verticillium wilt, this is one that likes dry weather and drought stress hit those crops, too. So there were some early dying losses.
  • Oh, wireworms. Old chemistry is being used right now. Wireworms are underground, so they are challenging to control for sure. And have a four to five year lifecycle. Residents of the soil, live through multiple crops and tillage. Click beetles are wireworm, y’all. Did you know that?
  • Grain and forage crops are actually ideal habitat for developing wireworms. So, now the rotation is different to take that into account.
  • Mustard and buckwheat crops/cover CAN decrease wireworm pressure, about 15,000 acres total in the province this last year.
  • Potato seed is a pretty specialized process, as it’s propagated plant material
  • Pressure on water sources? Public pressure? Responsible permitting of water use is important. It’s a political hot potato (yeah, we went there)
  • What is soil like in PEI? Acidic soils, sandy and sandy loam, very leachable. High iron, binds the phosphorus. Prone to N losses by leaching.
  • No soil fumigation is used, so lots of trials and research into cover crops and crop rotation. Pearl millet and sorghum-sudan grass, for soil management and disease and wireworm control
  • Managing acidic soils? Well, it’s tough, but it also means that certain bacterial issues are less likely in acidic soils.

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