Wet winter devastates potato crop

Opiki potato farmer, Mike Moleta. Photo / File
Opiki potato farmer, Mike Moleta. Photo / File

An unprecedented wet season has caused potatoes to rot in the ground before they could be harvested, with one Horowhenua farmer losing 100 tonnes from a single paddock.

Opiki potato farmer, Mike Moleta has been working his family farm for two decades, his father for six decades before him.

He said that in all that time they had never experienced weather so extreme.

The potatoes, planted on their Opiki farm during October last year, were due to be harvested from April onwards. However, because of unprecedented rainfall, Moleta could only stand by as his potatoes began to rot in the ground.

He said, generally speaking, potatoes could only last for 24 hours if they were under water, but his were under water for two or three days at a time.

"The potato rows were full of water [for days] in April, May, and July and again in August," he said.

Moleta said that April and May are normally dry and a breeze for harvesting.

"If anything, it can be too dry and the potatoes can get bruised [during harvesting]," he said.

This year was so wet that Moleta wasn't able to harvest one of his paddocks of potatoes until August, too late for half the crop.

"From the middle of June to August 20, we were only able to get out for half a day of harvesting," he said.

"We have done more harvesting in the last 10 days than the last three months."

Moleta said he wasn't sure about the idea of climate change but recognised that weather patterns seemed to be getting more extreme and, that by the end of June this year, had already reached their annual rainfall total.

He said that the effects of the high rainfall were two-fold, in losing product and doubling productions costs.

"Because the rows were full of water for so long, the potatoes at the bottoms of the rows rotted. What did survive [at the top of the rows] had more insect and frost damage and greening, which all added to the loss."

He said they had a contract for one paddock of 200 tonnes but were only able to harvest half that amount.

"Harvesting costs were twice as high because the ground conditions made it slow going. Instead of taking four days to harvest it took 10," he said.

"If these weather patterns continue we will have to evaluate our future in the industry because we can't sustain losses like we have this year."

- Horowhenua Chronicle

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