by Tad Thompson, The Produce News
A delayed Red River Valley red potato crop was very late in revealing itself. But by Oct. 3, about 50 percent of the shipping district's crop had been harvested, according to Ted Kreis, the marketing director of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association in East Grand Forks, Minn.
The most optimistic hopes for the crop were being fulfilled, Kreis said. "The quality is looking very good. The yields vary from 120 hundredweight to 240 hundredweight per acre. We will have less product" because of the low yields, compared to the 2012 crop, "but we will make up for it with higher packout rates. We will have better quality and we will ship as many as last year."
Kreis indicated that the valley received gentle rain over a wide region Sept. 27-28. This softened the dry soil for critical harvest dates. He said product harvested in dry soil faces dirt clumps with sharp edges that harm the spuds. More rain-with perhaps a few harmless snowflakes-was forecast for Oct. 4-5.
"A lot of damage was down to production early," with too much rain and a late spring. Then, Kreis said, "The growing season progressed very well. July and August were very dry, which trimmed yields further. But we're salvaging a good crop and the rain helps."
Coleen Vincent, the sales manager of Northern Valley Growers LLC in Hoople, N.D., said, "The potatoes in the bin now all look good. The growers told me the crop is better than they expected. Considering how the year started, we are very happy with the crop. We seem fine. We are happy with what we are putting in the bins."
Steve Tweten, president of NoKota Packers Inc. in Buxton, N.D., said that NoKota's harvesting was about 35-40 percent complete on Oct 3. "The quality is very nice. The tonnage is variable, which is what we expected. Overall, NoKota has average yields. For others, yields are good to below average." An average yield, he said, is about 200 hundredweight per acre.
Fresh-market red potato prices will "need to rise to be okay," Tweten said. "The prices are better than last year. The outlook is that there is a good chance the market should improve, based on the national position. There is okay tonnage, which should match nicely to demand."
When the Red River Valley potato crop is normally 50 percent to 60 percent harvested, it was only 11 percent complete in 2013, Chuck Gunnerson, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers told The Produce News.
Gunnerson indicated the crop was planted two or three weeks late in the spring and has been running behind since that time.
Heading into October, the Red River Valley potato industry was still trying to grasp the nature of its crop, Gunnerson said. "There are many variables. Some areas had an excess of rain. Some had a lack of rainfall."
That picture would not clearly reveal itself until the harvest was into October this year.
Red River Valley growers all had virtually the same message: There have been mixed reviews in early field sampling. There has been a difference in yields within one field. A cold spring delayed planting in the valley and the timing has remained out of sync since.
The good news is that early indications are that the quality of the 2013 Red River Valley red potato crop is good.
According to Gunnerson, there was less than an inch of rain recorded in nearly all weather stations in North Dakota in the first 25 days of August. September had some rain but it was still inadequate for the growers' needs.