History of Potatoes on Long Island
Long Island has had a long history of potatoes dating back to the early 1800’s when commercial potato production began with the development of potato planters and diggers, and the establishment of the Long Island Railroad.
Potato production peaked in the late 1940’s with over 70,000 acres grown annually on the island by over 1,000 farmers. The most common potato varieties grown at this time were Irish Cobbler and Green Mountain. During this time, a typical yield for potatoes averaged 160 cwt. (1 cwt. or “carton weight” equals 100 pounds) per acre (eight tons per acre). Due to the strong production of potatoes on Long Island, the Potato Association of America, a professional organization, held its 50th anniversary meeting at the Perkins Inn in Riverhead from July 15-19, 1963.
Unfortunately, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, potato acreage significantly decreased due to land development and high production costs including labor, fertilizer, and costs to control the Colorado potato beetle. Potatoes are attacked by numerous diseases and insects but the Colorado potato beetle is the most serious insect pest to potato farmers. Both the larval and adult stages of this insect can cause severe damage to the plants by feeding on the leaves and stems resulting in a reduction of yield.
Similarly, late blight is a very destructive fungal disease that can attack the leaves, stems and tubers of potato plants. It was late blight that destroyed potato crops in Ireland which resulted in the famous “Irish Potato Famine” of 1845.
Today, potatoes are still grown on approximately 2,500 acres. Potatoes are planted from late March to early May, and early potato varieties, such as Superior and Red Norland, are harvested as early as mid-July while the later storage potatoes are harvested in the latter part of September through early November. Most harvesting is done by machines called potato combines, which uproot the potatoes, shake the earth from the tuber and convey the potatoes into a truck. However, a typical yield for potatoes is now up to 250 to 400 cwt. per acre (12.5 to 20 tons per acre depending on variety and the season) compared to that in the 1940’s.
The most common potato varieties you can find grown on Long Island today are round white types including Superior, Reba, Andover, Norwis Marcy, Yukon Gold, and Dark Red Norland. Almost all potatoes are grown for fresh market to be sold in supermarkets. A minor amount of potatoes are grown for potato chip and vodka production. And, although some are sold locally, most of the potato crop is shipped by trucks to New England, the mid-Atlantic states and some southeastern states.
The largest potato farm on Long Island is owned by John Kujawski & Sons Farm where they grow about 300 acres of potatoes on their 500-acre farm in Jamesport. John Kujawski & Sons is the site of the East End’s largest vegetable farm for the last 35 years.
(The above information has been graciously provided to us by Dale Moyer, the Associate Executive Director and Agriculture Program Director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.)
Fun Facts about Potatoes from the Empire State Potato Growers Association:
• Potatoes contain antioxidants; the amount and type depend upon the variety and cultivar.
• The predominant antioxidants in potatoes are vitamin C, certain carotenoids, and anthocyanins.
• Potassium helps maintain normal blood pressure. Potatoes are a good source of potassium.
• Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant stabilizing free radicals, thus helping prevent cellular damage.
• Potatoes contribute vitamin C to the diet, which helps protect your body from infection by keeping your immune system healthy.
• Potatoes are sodium free.
• Potatoes are 100% fat free. Eating a healthful diet low in fat may reduce the risk of some types of cancers, a disease associated with many factors.
• New York Farmers currently grow about 20,500 acres of potato crop for seed, fresh and processing.
• New York's potato growers rank 13th in the nation in potato production.
• The New York potato industry is valued at $65.3 million.
• New York produces apporximately 5.2 million cwt.
• Old Newspaper Article Tells of LI Potato in 1910 (January 9, 1964)
• Long Island Guide; Potato Fest (New York Times, October 24, 1982)
• Potato Festival on Long Island Next Saturday (Chicago Packer, August 21, 1937)
• Long Island and Jersey Potato Harvest Starting (Chicago Packer, July 17, 1937)
The above photos have been used with permission by Wesnofske Farms, and are credited to Edward R. Wesnofske.