PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Potato farmers rely on Steve Johnson. At the very least they did for 34 years. Now Johnson, who retired on June 30, is using his know-how to other elements of the globe.
Johnson, who was a crops expert with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Presque Isle, has informed farmers when to plant, how to treat illnesses and pests, how to appropriately keep crops and launched technologies to growers. While he has remaining Aroostook, he is not leaving agriculture. He has way too a lot invested.
Johnson’s contributions that prolonged over and above his day-to-working day do the job with farmers have ensured the continued accomplishment of potato farming around the world, and built potatoes possible as a staple foods even in poorer nations around the world.
He has harvested 33 consecutive crops of investigate potatoes, and pioneered an “electronic potato” that grew to become the market conventional for calibrating harvesters to minimize bruising the crop in the subject. He also has shared his experience through Maine and throughout the earth, in locations like Australia, Guatemala and Macedonia.
Johnson, who life on the coast with his spouse, Jennifer, has primarily loved operating immediately with growers and developing ties with them. Although a variety of other position delivers arrived his way, he chose to continue to be with the Extension for the reason that he felt he was producing a variance.
“I’ve been to weddings and funerals, and I’ve been at their tables and had calls in the center of the evening when things aren’t working,” he said. “It’s a good deal far more than punching a clock. It’s own.”
Now, he can do what he would like to do in its place of what he has to do. This winter season he will return to Australia to work with the seed field there, and he plans other projects to assist men and women study more about the science of agriculture.
Johnson’s work has garnered awards from the Countrywide Safety Council, Potato Association of The usa and Maine Potato Board, among many others. In 2000 he grew to become an Extension professor and, in recognition of his occupation, UMaine named him Extension professor and crops expert emeritus.
But what indicates most to him is bringing American technology to areas in the world that truly require it, which he has performed as a volunteer scientist in a number of nations.
Advances in potato storage have resulted in temperature- and humidity-managed environments that indicate spuds can be saved nicely for a prolonged time. But in Guatemala’s mountainous terrain, the place there is no energy, Johnson labored with subtle light storage, an financial solution that retains potatoes in oblique mild with great ventilation.
The strategy is massive there, simply because if the people today really don’t have potatoes, they do not eat, he said.
He introduced some of Maine’s potato kinds to Macedonia and the Dominican Republic, labored with potato processors in New Zealand and wrote a method to predict late blight in Australia. He launched mechanical planters to farmers “down below.” Considering that the introduction of COVID-19, he has coordinated global Zoom periods exactly where growers can share understanding across borders.
“That’s the sort of stuff that I have performed for decades — bringing the know-how that we have listed here to [other places],” he stated. “So significantly of it was not listened to of many years back, and now we’ve brought it in and it’s conventional treatment. It’s very cool.”
Labor shortages and local climate adjust are between issues going through the potato industry and all of agriculture.
Just like in the U.S. and Canada, growers in Australia and New Zealand have difficulty discovering employees. When Johnson was there in the mid-1990s, farmers would go to the pubs and round up people who desired to operate. Now they depend on younger people backpacking via the state, who perform for a bit to make money and then shift on.
Though there are men and women who really do not think it, the local weather is altering, Johnson said. Maine’s climate is receiving hotter and rains are additional extreme, nevertheless periods of drought are on the increase.
“Everyone’s acquiring a sample. We have a short while ago found some Augusts that Jesus and Steve can both of those stroll across the Aroostook River, and at times it is spilling the banking companies. We were being unquestionably more predictable many years back,” he explained.
The superior news is growers working with drought are irrigating more, and potato breeders at UMaine and Presque Isle’s Aroostook Farm are checking out drought-resistant varieties. The Russet Burbank is popular for the reason that it is consistent in changeable ailments, and there are also African kinds that can endure a whole lot of environmental abuse.
But it is tough to get ready for climate transform because no one is aware specifically what the modifications will be, Johnson mentioned. However farmers are worried about it, the realities of gasoline expenditures, labor, repairing machines and marketing and advertising the crop set climate concerns on the back burner.
Still, he thinks potatoes will continue to be Aroostook County’s No. 1 crop. While there may possibly be fewer farmers, there are extra huge farms that are raising their acreage. Growers are planting before and have larger devices, and they’re delving into soil chemistry and other agricultural engineering like by no means prior to.
“I hope the potato to reign supreme,” he stated. “Maine is generally heading to be a [good] storage space. I consider that one particular of our strengths is storing and offering potatoes 12 months of the yr.”