Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published October 27, 2009, 10:03 PM

Spud harvest limps along

Potato farmers in the Red River Valley are struggling to get the last few acres of taters dug, but it looks as though the muddy conditions and looming cold weather will keep some spuds in the field.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

Potato farmers in the Red River Valley are struggling to get the last few acres of taters dug, but it looks as though the muddy conditions and looming cold weather will keep some spuds in the field.

Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director for the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association in East Grand Forks, said Tuesday that 95.5 percent of the crop in North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota has been dug.

Only about 4,400 acres of spuds remain in the region’s fields. A warmer, drier day Tuesday allowed farmers to get back to harvesting, and trucks filled with red potatoes were seen tooling through Grand Forks to wash houses in East Grand Forks.

But it’s laborious in the muddy conditions that slow tractors, trucks and harvesters and leave too much soil on the spuds, Kreis said.

“It’s very, very slow going,” he said. “One harvester (machine) is only getting through 20 acres a day.”

He estimates that about half of the acres left are Russets, mostly irrigated, sold for french fries and other processed products. Another 1,600 or so acres are the “table stock,” the round reds, mostly, that are grown on “dry land,” dug, then washed and bagged locally and sold into the “fresh” market.

Industry scientists said about 250 acres of certified seed potatoes in northwestern Minnesota and about 350 acres in North Dakota remain to be dug.

Yields have been pretty close to average, which is 180 to 200 hundredweight bags per acre for nonirrigated potatoes, and 400 to 450 bags for irrigated, Kreis said.

That’s not bad for a crop that was a week to two weeks behind schedule all season because of the wet spring and cool summer and set back another week or two by this cold and wet October, he said.

There are some concerns about whether the weather has hurt the quality of the harvested crop, but nothing of significance has shown up.

Cold weather two weeks ago likely damaged some spuds with frost in the fields, but it’s impossible to tell until the once-frozen potatoes begin spoiling in storage, Kreis said.

On a brighter note, the small, localized blight outbreak discovered in late August in northwest Grand Forks County was completely contained, and there is no fear of any blight showing up in dug spuds, Kreis said.

But despite average yields, “the number of acres harvested will definitely be down,” Kreis said. “We lost approximately 4,000 acres from that rain June 26.”

“The areas up near Grafton, Park River to Hoople were particularly hard-hit by that rain at that time.”

Meanwhile, for the last 4.5 percent of the acres, “ a lot depends on the weather this week,” Kreis said. “There’s a strong possibility they won’t all get harvested.”

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com.

Tags: