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 article is by Mr. E. L. Cleveland, of Houlton, Maine, one of the best potato authorities in America:
Aroostook County, Maine, covers an area equal to that of the state of Massachusetts, growing and shipping annually approximately 30,000 car loads, or about 18,000,000 bushels of potatoes.
By reason of its northern latitude, and the virgin soil in which the potatoes are grown, they inherit those staple and vigorous qualities which make them at once the best and most valuable seed obtainable, as well as the most desirable table potatoes known to the general trade.
The most improved methods and machinery are here used, and probably no potato-growing county within any state in the Union can show such marked prosperity or satisfactory results as those which obtain in Aroostook.
Some forty different sorts are grown, which, with the exception of the main crop table varieties, Green Mountains, and two or three others, are used almost wholly for seed purposes, and distributed from New England to the Gulf of Mexico.
The industry of potato growing in Aroostook began to develop in the early '70's, when it was found the soil was especially well adapted to the raising of fine flavored and mealy table potatoes as well as the most vigorous and virile seed, and the demand quickly became general and pronounced.
The soil in the main is of a rich, gravelly loam, underlying which there is a strata of lime deposit. This gradually disintegrates where near to or exposed to the surface, and thoroughly impregnates the soil, so that it becomes ideal for the growing and maturing of the Irish potato.
Any up-to-date farmer that practises good farming and adopts improved methods frequently has under cultivation 100 acres or more, and counts on a yield of not less than 275 to 300 bushels per acre, according to varieties used and prevailing local conditions, and it may here be stated that good farming in Aroostook implies proper rotation, and this in turn means to grow potatoes not more than two seasons in succession on the same land, supplying nitrogen with clover, alfalfa, or other nitrogenous plant food as rotation is made, together with a sufficient amount of humus.
It may here be stated that improved methods of cultivation as well as conservation of soil resources are being sought for and closely followed where proved valuable. Of course commercial fertilizers are still being largely used. They have no doubt been used too much in the past, but intelligent farmers are coming to realize that more frequent rotation, together with an adequate supply of nitrogen and humus to be grown on the land with stated periods of rest, is vastly more profitable for a series of years. These matters are being earnestly discussed by the different granges and farmers' clubs, to the end that the best and most approved methods may be practised.
With the beginning of digging and harvesting of the crop (about Sept. 1st), the potatoes are usually sorted in the field, the merchantable stock being taken direct to the shipping station or to the farmer's cellars, according to his idea of the then prevailing market, and the small and refuse stock, to the starch factories, of which there are some sixty odd in the county. The price obtained for this starch material is of course somewhat elastic, according to the value of the finished product, but at all events there is no waste allowed, and frequently the amount received is such as to materially add to the net profits of the farm operation.
Where the farmer grows a larger quantity than he has storage for, a part of his crop is hauled direct to the shipping station, where cash is paid on a basis of the prevailing markets, less freight charges, and a fair compensation to the buyer and shipper for the amount of labor required in the marketing and handling of same.
Such a part of his crop as he decides to hold for later marketing is usually stored in an outdoor farm cellar, built especially for the purpose, and to be hauled during the winter at leisure, according to his idea of what the market may afford as the season advances.
The buyer or shipper owns or controls large storehouses at the different shipping stations, and the stock he purchases is promptly forwarded to the different markets in full carloads or held in storage, according also to his judgment and knowledge of the markets, visible supply, and the law of supply and demand, with the result that the immense track storehouses are often completely filled during harvesting, to be gradually emptied according to demand later in the season, artificially heated cars being used as weather conditions demand.
The construction of these storehouses is such that they are practically frost proof. In fact, some of the more thoroughly built seldom, if ever, use artificial heat.
Such varieties as are to be used for seed purposes are carefully assorted and placed in large well ventilated bins, the light excluded and temperature kept at as low a point as outside conditions will admit of and be safe.
The seed shipments begin to move into more southern territory with December, and continue for six months or more, gradually working north with the advance of the season, until the New England States are supplied. In the meantime of course the main crop, or table varieties, are being moved out to the many different markets, this part of the business beginning with harvesting, and continuing for ten months or more. Indeed, shipments are generally made every month in the year, though of course very light in July and August.
The future of potato growing in Aroostook should be regarded as in no sense problematical. With a large part of the county still undeveloped agriculturally, a soil admittedly almost ideal for the production of the Irish potato at its best, improved methods and a quality continually being bettered, a rolling surface well adapted to the use of improved farm machinery, and a product that of itself cannot be matched for either seed purposes or table use, together with competing transportation lines to tidewater, the next decade should see the present output more than doubled."