Nov 5, 2019
Recent cold stretch has Red River Valley harvest efforts about done

Potato farmers in the Red River Valley area of Western Minnesota and Eastern North Dakota have done about all they can to salvage their crop. Now, they must look to lawmakers for relief.

Heavy rains and early freezes have led to many growers abandoning what remains in the ground. A recent estimate by North American Potato Market News had 45 to 50% of the tablestock crop in the region still unharvested.

Ted Kreis, the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association Director of Marketing Communications, reported what lawmakers are doing to help farmers. Kreis’ report:

“On Oct. 28, the crisis got the attention of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Minnesota State Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen when they visited East Grand Forks to meet with growers.

“The stress and hardship of this year’s harvest was communicated by the 50 or so growers that attended a quickly organized meeting held at the Minnesota Potato Inspection office a week ago today. Petersen brought the Governor and other state officials with him this time to allow them to see things first hand and hear from those affected. Other Minnesota officials attending included Commissioner of Management and Budget Myron Frans, Minnesota Director of Homeland Security Joe Kelly, State Director of the Farm Service Agency Joe Martin and staff from Rep. Collin Peterson, Sen. Amy Klobachur and Sen. Tina Smith’s offices.

“(Oct. 29), Governor Walz issued an executive order declaring an emergency and lifting regulations on motor carriers and drivers to alleviate the strain on farmers in western Minnesota during a particularly difficult harvest season.”

Harvest ends

“By mid-week, nearly all potato growers in the region pulled the plug on any continued harvest attempts. Three straight days of continuous temperatures below freezing froze the crop in place. The attention now turns to obtaining assistance through what ever programs may be available.

“(Nov. 1), North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, working in cooperation with state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, North Dakota’s congressional delegation, the federal Farm Service Agency and agencies across state government, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue requesting a secretarial disaster designation to make federal assistance available to agricultural producers struggling with extremely wet harvest conditions.

“To qualify for a secretarial designation, a county must have experienced a minimum 30% production loss of at least one crop due to natural disaster. As of Nov. 5, 45 of North Dakota’s 53 counties have met the threshold.

“In Minnesota, state government officials are still working to identify counties that meet the 30% threshold. NPPGA has been helping Minnesota officials determine which counties in Minnesota Area 1 have met or exceeded 30% or more in potato crop losses.

“A secretarial disaster designation allows for implementation of FSA’s Emergency Farm Loan Program and the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Economic Injury Loan Program for farm-related business. The Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program+ (WHIP+) is also available to eligible producers in presidential disaster-declared and secretarial-designated primary counties for 2018 and 2019 qualifying disaster events, which are flooding, snowstorm, tornado and wildfire according to FSA.”

Top photo: Red River Valley potato farmers, from left, Casey Folson, Lonnie Spokely and Justin Dagen. Photo: Northern Plains Potato Growers Association

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