Potato growers to see warm, dry conditions during September, NWS forecasts By Zeke Jennings

Growers in the major potato-producing areas of the northern U.S. are in for warm and normal-to-dry conditions during September, if the forecast proves accurate.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), precipitation levels should be near average levels in the Columbia Basin, Great Lakes region, Red River Valley and Northeast, and some below average in Colorado, Klamath Basin and much of Idaho.

The NWS also predicts temperatures will be slightly to moderately above normal during September in those same regions.

Photo: Travis Blacker, Idaho Potato Commission

Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Frank Muir said Aug. 25 that growing conditions have been “very good” this season. Harvest has started, but it will take well into October to work the near 300,000 acres planted in Idaho.

“From Wilder to Egin, growers are harvesting this year’s 295,790 acres (which is about 4% lower than 2019),” Muir said. “So far, the crop looks exceptional, with the early Norkotahs showing very high quality. Growing conditions have been very good, much better than last year.

“However, it’s still early, with six to seven weeks of harvesting ahead of us. Everyone is praying the weather continues to cooperate and doesn’t throw any complications like last year.”

Recent weather in the Columbia Basin has been dry and extremely hot. Harvesting there is ongoing.

“We are just getting through the second stretch of 100-degree weather this summer and hopefully the last,” said Grant Morris, a partner at Schneider Farms near Pasco, Washington, on Aug. 20. “The second round put the hurt on most of the fields in the south basin. The little bit I have dug of Rangers has been really good quality. I’m only in my first field, so I’m not sure about yield yet.

“From what I’ve heard, Shepody yields have been good.”

Precipitation outlook for September 2020 from the National Weather Service.

Another area that has been dry this summer is Aroostook County, Maine. Harvest there usually ramps up in mid-September.

“It has been another dry summer, drier than the last two for sure,” said Maine Potato Board Executive Director Don Flannery, on Aug. 20. “Even with the dry conditions the crop (tops) has been holding up, for the most part, but the dry conditions have had an impact on the set and sizing of the tubers. Growers that have irrigated started earlier than usual, so they may not see the impact that dry-land growers will see.

“It is really too early to know the impact on yield other than to say we anticipate yields will be down from the last couple of years. We haven’t had any other issues, such as disease, so the quality should be good. We are a few weeks from harvest but some growers are gearing up for field direct for the chip companies.”

In Wisconsin, the harvest is in its early stages. It’s also been a dry summer there, leading to plenty of irrigation, said Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association CEO Tamas Houlihan. So far, so good on the crop itself, he added.

“While we don’t anticipate a bumper crop, everything is looking good right now with average yields (420-440 cwt/acre) and excellent quality,” Houlihan reported Aug. 26. “It has been dry in August and growers have been irrigating around the clock. Temperatures have been moderate with a lot of cool nights in August.

“There is still a long way to go, however, and Wisconsin growers have learned not to count their spuds until they are dug. The last two falls have been incredibly challenging with hot temperatures and excessive rainfall in September. We’ve also had some issues with frost in October.”

Conditions also have been dry in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

“The river is running very low and the growers are concerned about the water table,” said Miguel Diaz of Martinez Farms in Alamoso on Aug. 26. “The lack of rain in the area is also a concern. Barley harvest is underway in the San Luis Valley. As far as yield I have not heard yet, and for us we are still gathering the information.”

“Regarding the potato crop, seed growers have vine killed earlier this month, so some are harvesting this week. The commercial production side is growing well, and the harvest is a few weeks away.”

Top photo courtesy of Travis Blacker, Idaho Potato Commission.

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