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.
Chas. D. Woods, Director Maine Agricultural Experiment Station, in an address before the New Jersey State Board of Agriculture, said:
While potato growing is somewhat a matter of soil and climate, it is even more dependent upon the ability, knowledge, and energy of the man who is trying to grow them. This fact was very clearly demonstrated in Aroostook County, Maine, in the season of 1907. Aroostook County is perhaps the richest agricultural county in the United States, and the potato is the money crop. Upward of eleven million bushels of potatoes were shipped from the crop in 1906, besides all that went into starch. The shipments from the crop of 1907 were less than half that of the preceding year. And yet the good farmers had as large, and in some instances larger, crops than in 1906. The season of 1906 was favorable for a large crop, and everybody that planted potatoes succeeded in growing and harvesting a good crop. The season of 1907 was unfavorable, and only the good farmers had good crops. The men that thoroughly prepared the seed bed on well selected soil, planted only what they could properly care for, who used fertilizer liberally, cultivated all the season, and who sprayed early and often against insect and fungous enemies, and harvested as soon as the crop was ready, not only had a large yield per acre, but because of the high price of potatoes after the poorly grown early ones were marketed, brought it about that with many Aroostook farmers the season of 1907 was the best for years. On the other hand, the farmer that planted illy adapted and slovenly prepared land, of larger acreage than he could well care for, who neglected to spray because the weather was not good for spray to adhere, who had so many acres he could not get them harvested before the unusually early freezing of the ground (over 11,000 acres of potatoes were frozen in Aroostook County in 1907), found the year a disastrous one. In many instances the crop harvested was not sufficient to pay the fertilizer bills.
By practising the methods of the good farmers of Aroostook County, many men in other parts of Maine are successful with potatoes as a money crop. There is no reason why men in other states may not grow the potato at fully as good a margin of profit as the farmer in Maine.
At the annual meeting of the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture in 1901 the writer (Doctor Woods), in answer to a question, said in substance: 'If a Massachusetts farmer plants a few potatoes, there is not one man in twenty but will allow something else to crowd in and cause him to neglect his potatoes. The one great reason they grow better potatoes in Aroostook County than elsewhere in Maine is that it is the farmer's business to grow potatoes. He does not allow his stock or other farm duties to lead to the neglect of his potato crop. He makes it his first duty to take care of his field of potatoes, and the field will have from twenty to fifty or more acres in it. One man and a pair of horses work on twenty acres from spring until the fall, and the one man and pair of horses will care for the twenty acres, and he will not be taken off to do anything else. This is one of the reasons they grow potatoes better - because they are growing them for business. They are not thinking of the dairy cow or the breed of sheep; I wish they were, but they are not. They are thinking about growing potatoes. When I used to live in Connecticut, up and down the Connecticut valley were men that ate, drank, and slept tobacco. And so there are men that eat, drink, and sleep potatoes down in Aroostook County, Maine.'
The potato is so generally and extensively grown, we are so familiar with its qualties and the various methods of culture, that most farmers are very positive as to the best methods of growing this crop. During the past twenty-five years hundreds of experiments have been made at experiment stations and by practical growers, and the results from experiments in propagation and culture are so conflicting that the careful student will be very slow in drawing conclusions. While he will be convinced that there are ideal ways of treatment under certain conditions, he will be equally convinced that under different conditions very different practice will be necessary to insure the best crop. In potato growing, as with most farm operations, the soil and atmosphere are such determining factors that there is no best way. Each farmer who would grow potatoes to the best advantage must be sufficiently intelligent to understand the conditions of the soil on his own farm. The methods of preparation of soil, of planting, cultivating and fertilizing the crop depend largely on the character and condition of the soil and the season.
The successful growing of the potato crop demands careful and conscientious work from start to finish. There are many details which, if neglected, mean partial failure, and which must be complied with in order to insure the fullest success. It is not practicable in a short paper to hint at more than a very few factors which enter into successful potato growing. Among the most important are the selection, the preparation of the soil, including application of fertilizer; the seed and the care of the crop during the growing season.
A soil to grow potatoes well must be in an excellent state of tilth, sufficiently mellow to make a good seed bed and place for the tubers to develop. Abundant plant food must be supplied, and the land must be so situated that it will not suffer from excessive rain and will be well adapted to stand drought. If not naturally well drained, it must be under-drained. If it is not of good water-holding capacity, this must be secured by increasing the humus by green manuring or the use of liberal quantities of stable manure.
There is no farm crop that is more easily, speedily and greatly affected by the supply of moisture than is the potato. It has been found by experiment that it takes about 425 tons of water to grow a ton of dry matter of potatoes. A crop of 200 bushes per acre would therefore require approximately 650 tons of water, equivalent to a rainfall of nearly six inches. Because of its need for large water supply, and its remarkable susceptibility to climatic conditions, it follows that the average potato yield is affected more by water supply than by lack of plant food. The selection of soil and methods of culture must be with this fact in view, if success is to be had. The liberal applications of fertilizers or the presence of large amounts of readily available plant food will prove of but little value if the moisture supply is deficient. It is also true that too much water will check the growth as quickly and effectually as too little.