- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (AP) - The bright sun is outshining the state’s reputation for fickle weather as the potato harvest gets underway in earnest following an excellent growing season, potato farmers said.

Some Aroostook County schools closed this week to allow teenagers to help farmers harvest the state’s 52,000 acres of potatoes.

Optimistic farmers had nothing but praise for their good fortune with the weather - the perfect amount of rain and sun.

“It’s as good as it could ever be hoped for,” said Randy Smith, farm manager at the Aroostook Farm, one of five experimental farms operated by the University of Maine.

If anything, it’s been too warm.

Temperatures in the 80s actually delayed the harvest for three days late last week. Farmers said it was too warm to put potatoes into storage.

Brent Buck, who farms 330 acres of seed potatoes in Mapleton, said he chose not to harvest during the warm temperatures. But others harvested in the morning, when it was cooler.

This week, all farmers are hard at work.

It’s too early to project whether the harvest will surpass last year’s level of 1.52 billion pounds of spuds, according to the Maine Potato Board. But growers said initial quality and yield appear to be better than 2014, said Tim Hobbs, the board’s director of development and grower relations.

Up until the 1940s, Maine was the nation’s potato capital and Aroostook County is still home to the vast majority of farmland devoted to spuds. These days, Maine’s ranking typically falls at the bottom of the 10 top potato producers, but spuds are still a big business in Maine.

Two-thirds of the potatoes are transformed into french fries, potato chips and other processed products. About 20 percent are seed potatoes, and the remainder is sold as table stock.

During the harvest, farmers have only three weeks to get potatoes out of the ground and into storage before the ground freezes.

For now, the weather is on the farmers’ side.

The forecast calls for warm days and cool evenings this week. There’s a possibility of some showers next week.

“By then people will be ready for a day off,” Hobbs said.

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