Nov 8, 2017Positive outlook for Red River Valley potato harvest
The USDA has not released its full harvest report yet – it’s scheduled for Nov. 9, – but local reports are promising for the Red River Valley.
“We did have a dry spell this summer where everyone was concerned,” Chuck Gunnerson, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association told the Duluth News Tribune. “But because of the excessive moisture that we did have last year, we had a reserve built up in the subsoil, which seemed to carry … the potatoes through in the dry-land growing areas, making it a very good crop.”
Other parts of the country experienced wet weather, which slowed harvest last month, including Idaho, Colorado and parts of Minnesota.
Farmers near East Grand Forks, Minnesota, could have used more rain during the growing season, said Zack Bruer, farm manager for A & L Potato in East Grand Forks. Still, the harvest went well, he said.
“For the amount of rain we had, which was barely anything, we were pleasantly surprised with the yields,” he said, adding the yields should be average to above-average.
On average, the company and its producers harvest between 300,000 hundredweight (cwt) to 325,000 cwt in red and yellow potatoes, plant manager Frankie Vargas said. Those potatoes are sold as fresh table-stock, or farm-to-table, products.
This year, A & L harvested 400,000 cwt in potatoes, Vargas said.
Extra rain during harvest also helped farmers pull their crops from the ground, Gunnerson said. Overly dry soil can cause the dirt to clump, resulting in bruised potatoes.
Instead, the moisture loosened the soil, making it easier to harvest potatoes without much damage, Gunnerson said.
“We were blessed with quite a bit of rain at harvest,” he said. “The quality (of potatoes) seems to be excellent.”
Yields have been “very good” for the dry-land growing areas of the valley, where producers grow seed potatoes, red potatoes and potatoes used for chips, Gunnerson said. Those crops could see above-average yields, he added.
Irrigated cropland typically used to grow potatoes used for french fries likely will see average yields, he said.
In a few weeks, growers will have a better sense of how large the potato crop is, Gunnerson said, but it’s already well ahead of last year’s. North Dakota produced 21.6 million cwt in 2016, which was down 22 percent from 2015, according to the USDA. Minnesota produced 16.8 million cwt last year, up a percent from 2015.
“If you look at 2016, we probably only put 75 percent of our normal potato acreage into storage,” he said. “We’re going to be harvesting a full crop across 80,000 acres this year.”