At the Potato Conference in January, one speaker really stood out to Sharon Campbell of Senator Angus King's Presque Isle office:
Jake Dyer from Maine Potato Board (MPB) spoke about alternative crops. He came on in August to MPB and was formerly from the University of Maine system. He is working under a specialty crop block grant for alternative crops and profitable rotation. This isn't a full report but some tidbits: there really are some needed crops with proven use as rotation with minimal changes to equipment or planting/harvesting season disruption, specifically sunflowers and canola for culinary oils. Full Sun Co. out of VT is very interested in Maine producing these and can use 160 to 200 tons of each crop just for their use. They also offer down payments on crops and storage premiums.
Food Grade Identity Preserve Soybeans is another crop: a company out of Ontario, Sevita International, is really looking to have Maine step up on this crop – their varieties are well suited to ME climate. Hard Red Spring and Hard Red Winter Wheat is another. Bay State Milling is headquartered in Massachusetts but their facility in Clifton, NJ, is really hoping Maine farmers will take a plunge at this rotation crop and are offering incentives. Buckwheat is another and The Birkett Mills in New York are looking at Maine for supply. And a lot of request for organics like Organic Valley, Stoneyfield, Morrison's. Ninety-eight percent of their need is imported at this point and they are looking for both food grade and for feed as well. And sugar beets out of Grand Falls is another market.
The Maine Potato Board had a Planning Decisions Report done and although it has not fully been reviewed it looks like all the above and additionally leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, organic grains, dry peas, lentils, chick peas, dry beans, flax seed and triticale are all in high demand and are good options for rotation crops on a 2 to 3 year basis that show good potato yield impact but could also diversify the crops on their own. Good information. Jake told farmers in the room that they need to really make cold calls themselves to companies and ask what they need and what the gain would be for them to grow it. It seemed the few companies that Jake listed really had some good incentives and hopefully some of the farmers were listening.
I spoke with Don Todd at length on these and he is really hoping that some of these take off and some new farmers even take advantage of their loan programs and look to a variety of crops going down the road. Looks like the spud is going to not be an only child for much longer!
Office of Senator Angus S. King, Jr.
169 Academy Street, Suite A
Presque Isle, ME 04769
Office: (207) 764-5124