As Red River Valley dryland potato farmers expected, the 2021 drought reduced their crop’s yields.

The dry conditions lowered the Red River Valley dryland potato crop yields, which mostly are fresh and seed varieties, from 20% to 25%, estimated Ted Kreis, Northern Plains Potato Growers Association marketing director.

Statewide in North Dakota, the condition of the potato crop for the week that ended Sunday, Sept. 19, was 4% very poor, 16% poor, 63% fair, 5% good and 2% excellent, according to National Agricultural Statistics-North Dakota. Twenty-nine percent of the crop was harvested as of Sept. 9, which was 9% less than last year, but only slightly below the five-year average of 26%, the statistics service said.

Although August and September rains didn’t fall in time to give much of a boost to Red River Valley potato yields, they did soften the ground for harvest.

“I’d say it’s the best digging we’ve had in quite a few years,” said Kelly Grotte, who grows red and yellow potatoes for the fresh market on his farm near Thompson, North Dakota. “They’ve been coming off really nice.”

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Yields vary greatly, from saline spots in the field that have no potatoes under them, to other fields where the crop produced a record amount, Grotte said on Tuesday, Sept. 21.

Overall, yields since Grotte began harvesting his red potato crop on Sept. 8 have been below average.

“The average dryland yield is three-fourths of a normal year on fresh reds. Typically, red potatoes grown on dryland yield about 225 hundredweight to the acre,” he said.

Potatoes tumble off a conveyer into a truck in the potato field of Andrew Grotte and Daniel Loiland, south of Grand Forks, North Dakota, on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. 
Ann Bailey / Agweek
Potatoes tumble off a conveyer into a truck in the potato field of Andrew Grotte and Daniel Loiland, south of Grand Forks, North Dakota, on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. Ann Bailey / Agweek

“The quality is above average; nicely shaped and there aren’t too many growth cracks,” Grotte said.

North and west of Grotte, the early potato harvest of Carl Hoverson, who grows about 5,400 acres of chipping, processing and table stock potatoes near Larimore, North Dakota, also was going smoothly on Sept. 21.

Hoverson Farms began harvesting on Saturday, Sept. 11, and hopes to finish by Oct. 5, Hoverson said.

The potatoes are grown under irrigation, so the lack of rain this summer was not an issue. Hot temperatures this summer didn’t appear to have caused any quality problems, Hoverson said, noting that the varieties Hoverson Farm grows are varieties that are raised in the desert and are heat resistant.

Across the Red River in Minnesota, near Karlstad, Justin Dagen was harvesting seed potatoes on Sept. 21.

“We started the first part of September and we expect to be done in early October,” Dagen said.

The potato field of Andrew Grotte and Daniel Loiland south of Grand Forks, North Dakota, was dug on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. 
Ann Bailey / Agweek
The potato field of Andrew Grotte and Daniel Loiland south of Grand Forks, North Dakota, was dug on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. Ann Bailey / Agweek

The cooler temperatures during the week of Sept. 19 were favorable for seed potato harvest because the crop has to be stored for five to seven months.

“They are more susceptible to decay in storage when they’re hot,” Dagen said. “We don’t like to dig potatoes in tank tops and flip flops. We like to dig potatoes with coveralls on.”

While the past summer’s drought reduced seed potato yields from 15% to 20%, the quality of the crop is excellent, Dagen said.

“They’re beautiful potatoes,” he said. “Overall, we’re happy. It looks like we’re going to survive the drought. Thankful for that.”

Statewide in Minnesota, the condition of the potato crop for the week ending Sunday, Sept. 19, was 2% very poor, 5% poor, 20% fair, 43% good, and 30% excellent, according to National Agricultural Statistics-Minnesota. Forty-one percent of Minnesota’s potatoes were harvested as of Sept. 19, which was 9% less than last year and 5% less than the five-year average, the statistics service said.