This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
The following interesting information is from the Bangor Aroostook Railroad, Bangor, Maine:
Maine has long been famous for its wealth of timber-lands, its summer resorts and great game country. The preeminence of the Aroostook potato is winning for the state new and constantly increasing fame. Because of the remarkable yield and exceptional quality of the crops, the Aroostook potato country has come to be known as the garden spot of New England, and in many ways it is attracting more attention than any other agricultural section of the country.
The Aroostook potato is known the country over. Millions of bushels are shipped to Boston, New York, and other centres for domestic use, while thousands of carloads are called for from all parts of the country for seed purposes. Wherever it is planted the Aroostook potato varieties retain the characteristics which have made them famous, and they also adapt themselves to conditions of soil and climate supposedly much different from those of Maine. In Virginia, for instance, where the paramount object is to hasten the early crop, the Aroostook potato matures from a week to a fortnight earlier than other varieties.
The development of the Aroostook country, a great area of 4,000,000 acres, has gone hand in hand with the expansion of the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, and it is by this road that the potatoes are sent forward to the metropolitan markets. Although the number of new farms increases each year, there are still thousands of acres of desirable land. Aroostook has seen a marvellous growth in the past decade - a growth which bids fair to be even more remarkable within the next few years. Dozens of stations along the line of the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad are potato shipment points for farmers, while the thriving towns of Houlton, Presque Isle, Caribou, and Fort Fairfield sent out hundreds of potato trains each season.
The standard size of the Aroostook farm is the regulation 160 acres. At the present time this is considered a large farm. Near any of the business centres of the county, in a locality easily accessible to a railroad shipping point, under good cultivation and with ample buildings, such a farm will range in market value from $10,000 to $20,000 according to the percentage of good potato producing land it contains. The buildings on an Aroostook farm must comprise, among other things, ample barn room for the storage of hay and grain, a good frostproof potato storehouse capable of holding from 2,000 to 3,000 barrels. The equipment must include all appliances for planting, cultivating and harvesting the potato and other crops, such as seeders, planters, diggers, sprayers, mowing and reaping machinery, etc. Usually from four to six heavy draft horses are required, and the investment outside of the land runs from $2,000 to $3,000 and many times much more.
The average price of good, cleared land in Aroostook, well located and under good cultivation is not far from $100 an acre. The appreciation in value of Aroostook farm land has been steady since the beginning of the potato raising industry, and particularly marked since the opening of the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, as has also been the increase in wealth and population in almost all sections of the county. Within fifteen years, or covering the period the railroad has been in operation, many towns have doubled their population and trebled their valuation.
The phenomenal success of farming in Aroostook from the financial viewpoint has been a strong magnet in attracting the public eye. Numberless instances can be pointed out where successful potato growers have risen from smallest beginnings to possessors of considerable wealth. Statistics show that in no section in the country is the potato yield greater per acre than in Aroostook and also that as a class the farmers are nowhere more prosperous.
The energetic and enterprising methods of farming in Aroostook County suggest strongly the widely commended Western spirit. Farms are conducted as business establishments. Modern methods are employed and buildings, equipment and paraphernalia are orderly, well-kept and always up-to-date. For the person whose idea of a farm is the depressing picture of the oft talked of 'abandoned' farm, a visit to Aroostook County will be a joyful awakening.
The Aroostook farmer believes in having every possible city advantage. He believes in making life worth living. His crops make it possible for him to follow this idea. A trip through Aroostook is replete with interest whether it be in the summer when the fields of blossoming potato plants stretch far away beyond the reach of the eye or at the harvest time when the farms take on a new activity. The mechanical potato digger has revolutionized the work and the crops are taken from the ground in surprisingly quick time. Potato growing in Aroostook is already a business of big proportions and the constant development promises to make it one of the greatest agricultural industries in the country."
During the winter of 1910 the senior author visited the Aroostook district, and his impressions follow:
This one county is like a Colorado county in area. It is on the northern boundary of Maine and borders on Canada.
Apparently the whole idea of the farmers in the county is centred on the growing of potatoes to the exclusion of all other crops as much as possible. The potato dominates every sentiment and idea. It is the sole topic of conversation where two or more men are gathered together. They are apt to be discussing machinery and wagons for potatoes and the cultivation of potatoes. And you see men hauling potatoes in every direction in barrels to and from warehouses, from farms to markets. They talk of them in the streets, in the offices and in the banks; and, I have no doubt, in the schools and churches, and even in their sleep. At Car-bondale and Greeley, Col. they think and talk of other things than potatoes, because their crops are diversified. At Houlton, Maine, the centre of the potato work, is the only place where I have been talked to a standstill on the subject of potatoes. I never met people who were so eager for knowledge in connection with potatoes.
The yield in this district is three times that of any single district in the United States and quite double that of the irrigated states Mr. E. L. Cleveland, pioneer and father of the seed potato industry in Houlton, Maine, has for the past thirty years been growing seed potatoes for shipment over the United States, but largely for the Southern market. They are growing sixty varieties of pure seed and their shipments amount to from eighty to one hundred thousand barrels annually.
Their growing season is very short, much shorter than we have in Colorado. It is only about one hundred days between killing frosts from June to September. The first week of April the fields were still covered with snow and it was known as a mild winter and a light snowfall. They almost universally practise fall plowing owing to their short season. They plant their potatoes much closer than we do in Colorado, rows from twenty-eight to thirty inches apart, and the hills from ten to twelve inches apart. This method produces more uniform and smaller potatoes than are grown in the irrigated West. They use about 700 pounds of very small, cut seed to the acre.
The implements for cultivation are very similar to those used in the best districts of Colorado.
Owing to their lack of livestock they have little or no barnyard muck. They place their whole reliance on commercial fertilizers and it is from this and the extravagant use of it that gives them such wondrous results in eclipsing other potato communities, but the cost has been high. They commenced the use of commercial fertilizers twelve or fifteen years ago, using 400 to 500 pounds per acre at a cost of $7.50 per acre. They have been compelled to increase this amount from year to year, and to date they are using 1,800 to 2,000 pounds per acre. This, coupled with the expense of spraying with Bordeaux mixture two or three times in the season and the added expense of combating the potato beetle, brings the expense of growing potatoes to from $70 to $75 an acre, but a yield of 240 bushels per acre is produced.
These lands are valued at $80 to $120 an acre, and the tenant farmers pay $10 to $20 an acre rent for growing potatoes, according to the richness of the soil and distance to railways.
Their proximity to large and populous cities, the cheap and rapid transportation facilities, with the splendid edible qualities of their potatoes (that their natural soil and climatic conditions give), assures them a good business.
The growers of this district can, however, well pay more attention to livestock and diversified farming in connection with their potato work.