Growers and shippers say this Red River Valley potato season is a good one in terms of quality, yields and demand.
Tom Campbell, co-owner and sales manager for Campbell Farms, Grafton, N.D., said in September that he was pleased with the quality and yields of the red potato crop.
The company had been washing and packing potatoes since August. Campbell Farms markets conventional red and Yukon gold potatoes, as well as organic reds and Yukons.
Steve Tweten, president of shipper NoKota Packers Inc., Buxton, N.D., said on Sept. 23 that Red River Valley red potatoes were good quality, with good color and shape. The company started shipping the new crop on Sept. 2.
Although production varies from crop to crop, NoKota ships about 1,300 truckloads a year, Tweten said. NoKota sources red potatoes from seven growers in the valley.
Rodney Olson, principal owner of shipper Ben Holmes Potato Co., Becker, Minn., and part-owner of grower Peatland Reds, Gully, Minn., said crop quality was good as of late September. The company started shipping potatoes from the valley about Sept. 9.
“It’s probably the nicest quality I’ve seen in some years from some sheds,” Olson said.
Olson said he expected Red River Valley growers to finish harvesting in early October. Ben Holmes markets potatoes as far west as Denver and to the southern and eastern U.S. and into Canada, Olson said. Most of its Red River Valley potatoes are red potatoes, but it markets some Yukon golds.
Cory Seim, general manager of Northern Valley Growers LLC, Hoople, N.D., also said this year’s crop was the best he’d seen in years. Northern Valley started digging potatoes in late August and began washing potatoes Sept. 13. Yields were average, and Seim said he expected a volume similar to last year’s.
Northern Valley planted about 10% fewer potatoes than last year due to a seed shortage, Seim said.
“It was very hard to find seed this spring for those who hadn’t already contracted it,” he said. “Last year wasn’t a huge crop, and seed growers had just cut back on acres.”
Typically, a few Red River Valley potatoes are shipped in September, but bigger volumes begin shipping in October, said Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director, Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, East Grand Forks, Minn. He estimated 1% is shipped from the field in September, along with potatoes grown in the Big Lake, Minn., and Long Prairie, Minn., areas.
The majority of Red River Valley potatoes go into storage. Stored potatoes are shipped until about June 1, when storage typically is depleted.
Crystal, N.D.-based O.C. Schulz & Sons Inc.’s red potatoes were good quality and yields were good, said partner and sales manager Dave Moquist.
In September, the company was putting all potatoes in storage. Moquist said he expected to begin marketing the new crop in mid- to late October. He said he expected a good marketing season.
Paul Dolan, general manager for growers’ cooperative Associated Potato Growers Inc., Grand Forks, N.D., said in September that potato quality was average and volume was expected to be similar to or slightly more than last year’s. It markets annually about 1.25 million cwt. of red and yellow potatoes.
“Size looks good,” he said. “We’re going to have a good supply of As and Bs.”
Prices were about $2-3 higher than last year’s in mid- to late September, Dolan said. A-size red potatoes were priced at about $15-16 per cwt. as of Sept. 20, he said.
Associated Potato has 20 growers producing red and yellow potatoes in the valley. The potatoes being harvested this fall were planted from early May through late June, Dolan said. The company lost 10% to 15% of the crop due to too much rain in late May and early June.
Campbell Farms also lost 5% to 10% of its crop because of excess rains early in the season, Campbell said.
Kreis said in September that some growers were getting above-average yields that could offset the springtime losses due to flooding. This fall’s harvest in some fields was interrupted once or twice a week by rains, but that’s typical, he said. Some areas stayed dry.
The amount of rain during harvest in September varied throughout the valley, with adequate to surplus moisture in the northern part near Grafton and Drayton, N.D., and drier conditions in Grand Forks, Dolan said.
“We’re having very good harvest conditions for storage,” Dolan said on Sept. 20.
The temperatures were cool, with lows in the 40-degree Fahrenheit range and highs in the low to mid-60s, which is ideal for storing potatoes, Dolan said. Soil conditions were loose, and potatoes could be harvested without bruising.
This season’s acreage of fresh-market potatoes in the Red River Valley is about the same as last year’s with approximately 23,000 acres planted, Kreis said. About 98% is reds and the other 2% is yellow potatoes.
Growers and shippers said there hadn’t been any significant disease or pest problems in this crop.
North Dakota State University’s website reported in early August that a potato psyllid alert was issued in the state. Psyllids carry bacteria and can lessen yields and lower quality by injecting a toxin into potatoes while feeding on them.
But Dolan said Associated Potato Growers hadn’t been concerned about any insects on this crop. There was some scurf, which is a fungal disease, but not enough to be a problem, he said.
Moquist said growers dealt with late blight, which is caused by a mold, but in September it appeared to have had no effect on the crops.
“Everybody did a terrific job of controlling it,” he said.