So you think you may want to add potatoes to the list of crops you grow? Robert E. Leiby, county Extension director for Penn State Extension in Lehigh County, gave growers a few points to ponder about potato production at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Hershey, PA, last month.
Before getting started, Leiby explained, growers need to find the answers to a few questions to determine if they are up to the task. These questions include:
Q1 Is my field suited for potatoes?
Selecting fields appropriate for potato production is important to turning a profitable crop, he said. “Good, deep, fertile, rich soil is key.” He added that potato rotations should be no less than three years.
“If a grower has sufficient land to go beyond three years, that’s to their benefit,” Leiby explained. “The biggest thing a grower should beware of when picking land for potato farming is poor draining.”
Q2 What seeds should I buy?
Knowing how to select a variety, where to get information, and the certification, sanitation, and handling practices are all necessary to getting started, he said.
“Obtaining high-quality certified seed will be a challenge in 2012, due to a weak crop,” Leiby warned. Knowing where to go to purchase seed, however, will be a plus to growers new to the industry.
“I like to compare potato crops to cantaloupes, peas, radishes, or lettuce,” he said. “With those, we talk about planting a few pounds of seed per acre. With potatoes, though, it’s a few tons per acre.”
Growers need to use certified potato seeds from reputable growers. “The state has certified potato seed farms, and they usually publish directories that can be found online. Referring to those and developing a relationship with a seed grower will really help,” he added.
Q3 What machinery and storage will I need to purchase?
Machinery and storage equipment is a huge investment and should be considered carefully. “One of the big things is the scale of the operation,” Leiby explained, “There are a number of single- and double-row lifters on the market that suit the needs of a 2-, 5-, 7-, or even 8-acre grower, but if you’re going to be bigger, then you need to look at getting a harvester and possible wind rowers.”
Q4 How should I set up a production budget?
Budgeting, an integral part of any business, should be one of the first things any grower does right off the bat. “We have a sample budget that we use, and many of the state Extension offices will have them for their particular state,” he said. “The important thing is to look at those budgets and figure out the number that is right for your specific operation depending on the size and the capital investment.”
Q5 Who should I go to for advice?
Leiby explained that there are numerous resources available to new growers to help them get their operations off the ground. He suggested some starting points such as the land grant university system or the Potato Association of America.