FARM: Potato harvest looking good despite late planting
INKSTER, N.D. -- Susie Thompson sometimes jokes she needs to breed gills and snorkel gear into potatoes. But the North Dakota State University potato breeder is serious about responding to a long wet cycle in the key potato-growing area of easter...
INKSTER, N.D. -- Susie Thompson sometimes jokes she needs to breed gills and snorkel gear into potatoes.
But the North Dakota State University potato breeder is serious about responding to a long wet cycle in the key potato-growing area of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota.
"Mother Nature throws a lot of challenges at us," Thompson says. "I think we have to look at varieties that can handle standing water positively."
Thompson spoke at the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association's recent annual Field Day Aug. 25, which included tours of potato fields at Larimore, Inkster and Hoople, N.D. Area farmers and others at the event agreed that over-abundant rainfall has made this a challenging growing season.
"I think we're going to come up with a short crop," said Jeff VanRay, a Pingree, N.D., farmer. Heavy spring rains hampered planting and caused many acres to drown out, he said.
Association president Chuck Gunnerson estimated overall potato yields in the Red River Valley might be down as much as 15 percent.
Harvest just beginning
Gunnerson and others said it is too early to say for sure what potato production will be.
Because of delayed planting, many spuds aren't as developed as usual. The harvest not expected to start in earnest until as late as mid September.
The weather before then will have a big impact on yields, VanRay said. "We need cool nights to bulk up" potatoes before harvest, he said.
The quality of this year's crop is expected to be good, though that won't be certain until farmers begin large-scale harvesting.
For the third straight year, late blight -- a highly contagious disease that can hurt both yields and quality -- has popped up in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota. Farmers say they've monitored the situation closely and applied fungicide when appropriate.
Demand, prices good
For years, the U.S. potato industry has been concerned about domestic potato consumption. In 2000, Americans on average ate potatoes 79 times at home. By 2009, the average rate had fallen to 67 times, according to the U.S. Potato Board.
More recent statistics indicate consumer demand is growing, said Justin Dagen, a Karlstad, Minn., farmer who is president of the National Potato Council.
Red potatoes are fetching $34 per hundredweight, a "very good price," Gunnerson said.
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. The Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, founded in 1946, has about 250 farmer-members.