( File photo )

A perfect storm of heavy rains followed by freezing cold weather will cut yields for the Red River Valley fresh potato crop in North Dakota and Minnesota nearly by half.

Potato harvest in Red River Valley was all but shut down Oct. 31, said Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director for the East Grand Fork, Minn.-based Northern Plain Potato Growers Association.

“We have had several days of freezing temperatures, probably taking care of anything that’s left out there,” he said Oct. 31. Industry estimates project the region may lose about half of the fresh crop.

“The best estimates are 45% to 55% (loss) but we will know more when we get all of our inventory counted up,” he said. Kreis speculated most potato sheds in the region may operate as normal perhaps into February. 

“Everybody’s got a different plan, but (shippers) are certainly going to be taking care of their best, long-standing customers first,” he said. Some sheds are operating at partial capacity, he said, and running only a few days a week.

The Red River Valley accounted for about 25% of the U.S. red potato production last year, so Kreis said the shortfall from the Red River Valley will push red potato prices higher across the country. 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 50-pound cartons of round red size B potatoes were $23-25.50 on Oct. 31, up from $14.50-16 per carton the same time a yea ago. The region is less important for yellow potato production, but Kreis said yellow potato prices have moved higher in recent weeks as well.


Idaho cold

Mark Klompien, president and chief executive officer of the United Potato Growers of America, also said losses of the fresh potato crop in the Red River Valley are estimated by some sources in a range between 40% and 45%.

Idaho has been affected, too, he said, with about about 12% to 15% of the Idaho potato crop still in the ground when freezing cold weather hit in October, he said. Crop damage in Idaho was undetermined. “We have heard of some growers trying to dig and salvage some of those left, but obviously trying to sort/store those is very risky at best,” Klompien said in an e-mail.

The USDA reported prices of Idaho russet burbanks, size 60s, at $16-18 per carton on Oct. 31. That is about double from $8-9 per carton the same time a year ago.


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