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Published September 14, 2010, 12:01 AM

All eyes on spud harvest

The Red River Valley’s potato harvest kept chugging along Monday, as spuds likely are the crop least fazed by the overabundance of rain the past week. It also helps that much of the crop is north of the wettest parts of the region.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

The Red River Valley’s potato harvest kept chugging along Monday, as spuds likely are the crop least fazed by the overabundance of rain the past week.

It also helps that much of the crop is north of the wettest parts of the region.

While Grand Forks received 2.7 inches of rain last week, and Crookston 2.9 inches, Forest River, N.D., in the heart of the valley’s spud-growing region, received only about 1 inch.

Irrigated Russets being dug Monday near Inkster, N.D., were yielding very good, said one of the operators for Hoverson Farms.

Minnesota’s spuds were 34 percent harvested by Sunday, behind the five-year average of 37 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly survey. North Dakota’s potatoes were 15 percent dug, behind the five-year norm of 21 percent by now.

Ted Kreis, marketing director for the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association based in East Grand Forks, said Monday “yields have been from exceptional down to disappointing. But overall I think it’s going to be an above-average year.”

Some of the round red potatoes that go fresh to tables are coming in at 300 hundredweight bags per acre, well above average for dry land, or non-irrigated spuds, Kreis said.

Potatoes mostly are contracted privately by processors, but the open market for fresh, washed reds is healthy, at $15 to $16 a bag, Kreis said.

It’s just another example of what promises to be a gonzo year all-around, for the region’s farmers.

On Monday, the USDA released its Sept. 1 estimates for later-season crops that show corn and soybeans nationwide will set records.

The two crops in North Dakota and Minnesota also promise to hit some record levels, although harvest

hasn’t begun.

The USDA said U.S. corn production would be 13.2 billion bushels, up from last year’s record of 13.1 billion, and down 2 percent from the Aug. 1 estimate.

The nation’s soybean crop is pegged at a record 3.48 billion bushels, up 4 percent from last year and up 1 percent from the Aug. 1 estimate.

A combination of an early spring, lots of sun and warm weather and rain made for Corn Belt conditions in much of the Red River Valley this year.

USDA figures North Dakota’s corn crop will break the per-acre yield record of 129 bushels set in 2005 by a full 11 bushels, hitting 140 bushels an acre, according to Monday’s report. Corn production in North Dakota is pegged this year at 254.8 million bushels, up from 200 million last year but well below the record of 285.2 million bushels set in 2008 when acreage was higher.

Minnesota’s corn crop will average 177 bushels an acre this year, down a bushel from the Aug. 1 estimate, USDA reported, but higher than last year’s record of 174 bushels. The state will bin 1.239 billion bushels of corn this fall, down from 1.244 billion last year, USDA said.

North Dakota’s soybean crop is pegged to come in at a record, by a pretty long shot, with 139.1 million bushels projected to be harvested from 3.76 million acres. The great growing season has continued late, with USDA upping its average yield projection by 2 bushels an acre from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1, to a record 37 bushels an acre projected to be combined, once the harvesters roll.

If USDA’s projections are on target, North Dakota has doubled its soybean production in 10 years.

Last year, North Dakota harvested 116.1 million bushels of soybeans from 3.87 million acres for a per-acre yield of 30 bushels.

Minnesota’s soybean crop is projected to come in at 340.9 million bushels, up from 284.8 million a year ago. The projected average yield also was jacked up by USDA the past month, by 2 bushels an acre, to an estimated 46 bushels an acre on a projected 7.41 million harvested acres. That compares to 40 bushels an acre yields last year on 7.1 million acres.

The dry edible bean harvest in North Dakota made some progress last week, despite the rain, with 24 percent of the crop harvested by Sunday, up 12 points for the week and ahead of the five-year norm of 18 percent by Sept. 12.

The sugar beet crop was 9 percent harvested on both sides of the Red River, ahead of normal because the “pre-pile” harvest was begun two weeks early to handle the expected early-maturing and big crop.

Sugar beets are expected to hit a record yield across the nation this year, of 28.9 tons per acre, up 0.6 ton from the August projection and a full 3.2 tons higher than last year. It would be a record for Minnesota and North Dakota growers and the nation.

Total U.S. production of sugar beets is forecast at 33.1 million tons, up 2 percent from the August estimate and 12 percent higher than last year.

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

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