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Published October 11, 2011, 09:21 AM

Warm, dry fall helps spud harvest

Warm, dry weather during harvest is a good thing. But too much of a good thing can lead to complications.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Warm, dry weather during harvest is a good thing. But too much of a good thing can lead to complications.

That’s the case with eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota potato farmers after temperatures shot into the mid- and high 80s in early October. Growers don’t want to harvest spuds when the temperature rises above 65 degrees, so the warm weather generally led to afternoon harvest shutdowns.

Unusually dry fall weather in the Red River Valley also has affected the potato harvest.

One measure of how dry it’s been: Fargo, N.D., in the heart of the Red River Valley, received about a quarter-inch of rain in September, compared with about 2½ inches in a normal September, says Adnan Akyuz, the Fargo-based North Dakota State Climatologist.

“It’s very unusual,” he says of the long warm, dry spell.

The relatively small amount of rain has led to dry lumps in the soil in some areas, complicating potato harvest, says Chuck Gunnerson, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association in East Grand Forks, Minn.

Many area spud growers would benefit from a slow-falling half-inch of rain that would moisten the soil, he says.

Overall, however, the warm, dry fall has benefitted area potato growers, allowing many of them to catch up on what had been a slower-than-usual harvest.

By early October, Minnesota spud farmers had harvested 73 percent of their crop, the same rate as the five-year average, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even with the long dry spell, North Dakota potato farmers had harvested only 54 percent of their spuds by early October, compared with the five-year average of 67 percent, the National Agricultural Statistics Service says.

Potato yields in the region on down substantially this year, primarily of a cool, wet spring that delayed planting, Gunnerson says.

However, the quality of area spuds generally is good, he says.

This summer, for the third straight year, late blight, a potentially devastating crop disease, was found in both North Dakota and Minnesota.

It appears the disease did relatively little damage this summer, thanks to growers’ quick and effective response to it, Gunnerson says.

Justin Dagen, a Karlstad, Minn., farmer who raises seed potatoes, says he expected to finish his spud harvest in the first week of harvest.

He estimates that his yields will be down about 25 percent this year, but adds that quality will be good.

The long spell of excellent harvest weather is appreciated, he says.

“It’s been a great run,” he says.

The Red River Valley of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota is the nation’s leading producer of red potatoes and the only region that produces in volume for the chip, fresh, seed and process markets.