(April 28) The Red River Valley Fresh Potato Growers Cooperative is up and running.

The Grand Forks, N.D.-based co-op, which is affiliated with Salt Lake City-based United Potato Growers of America, has 27 growers representing 10,000 acres.

Ted Kreis, marketing director of East Grand Forks, Minn.-based Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, said that figure is a little less than half of the fresh acreage in the Red River Valley.

However, Dave Moquist, co-owner of O.C. Shultz & Sons, Crystal, N.D., and chairman of the new cooperative, said he has commitments from other growers that will boost representation to 60% of the area’s fresh acreage.

“We have a good group of enthusiastic growers and are looking to move forward,” Moquist said. “We have some guys that have told us they’re going to join. We just haven’t got their checks yet. We think we’ll get a good percentage of the acreage in the Red River Valley signed up.”

The valley is the nation’s largest red potato growing region. North Dakota and Minnesota rank fourth and sixth, respectively, among potato-growing states.

Growers in the region indicated a desire to join United Potato last summer, but that agreement fell through. The national cooperative later approved documents in December that paved the way for the Red River Valley growers to become United Potato member members.

Moquist said joining the national organization will allow growers in the Red River Valley to share information and better understand supply and demand.

The Red River cooperative had its first meeting April 23. Greg Hall, co-owner of J.G. Hall & Sons, Edinburg, N.D., was named vice chairman, while Lonnie Spokely of Nielsville, Minn.-based Spokely Bros. was named secretary-treasurer. Two other growers, Tom Campbell, sales manager for Grafton, N.D.-based Tri-Campbell Farms, and Ben Tucker of St. Thomas, N.D., also were named to the board.

Kreis and Duane Maatz, president and chief executive officer of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, were named consultants to the board along with Cory Seim, general manager of Northern Valley Growers Inc., Hoople, N.D.; Paul Dolan, general manager of Associated Potato Growers Inc., Grand Forks, N.D.; and Steve Tweten, president of NoKota Packers Inc., Buxton, N.D.

Kreis said the consultants will attend board meetings and serve as advisors but will not vote.

Moquist said about half the sheds in the valley have finished shipping storage supplies from last year’s crop and most will run out by early June. The new crop will begin harvest in mid-August with volume increasing by mid-October, he said.

Maine and Michigan are the only remaining states with significant potato production that have not joined United Potato.