Red River Valley Crop Avoids Drought, Deluge

Published online: Aug 25, 2017 Articles Jonathan Knutson
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Red River Valley potato growers generally have avoided drought and deluge this growing season. That bodes well for the soon-to-begin 2017 harvest.

“The crop is looking really good in Minnesota, and it looks very good in North Dakota. We’re optimistic,” says Chuck Gunnerson, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association (NPPGA).

Gunnerson was among the nearly 200 people who attended the annual potato field day tour on Aug. 24. The event was sponsored by the East Grand Forks, Minn.-based NPPGA and included field tours and presentations by area potato experts in Larimore, Inkster and Hoople, N.D. Lunch, research presentations and a tour of irrigated trials were held at the Forest River Colony near Inkster.

The irrigated potato research is conducted on Hutterite-owned land rented by the potato growers association. The Hutterite colony, which has a Fordville, N.D., postal address, has been irrigating since 1973.

North Dakota and Minnesota are among the country’s top potato-producing states. The Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota—where most of the two states’ potato production occurs—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.

Prime potato-growing areas in northeastern North Dakota were hammered with rain during the 2016 growing season, in some cases twice as much as normal. That created anxiety during the 2016 potato field day tour and ultimately hurt many growers’ potato yields.

This year, in contrast, much of northeastern North Dakota received less rain than normal, but the shortfall generally wasn’t as severe as in drought-stricken parts of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. What’s more, good subsoil moisture in northeastern North Dakota—a result of the 2016 deluge—has helped offset below-normal precipitation this growing season in potato fields overall.

“There are always pockets that are too dry or two wet. And we have pockets this year that are too dry. But overall, the crop has done well,” thanks to both timely rains and plentiful subsoil moisture, says Andrew Robinson, a Fargo, N.D.,-based extension potato specialist with both North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota.

As of Aug. 20, the last day for which statistics from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service are available, 60 percent of North Dakota’s potato crop was rated good or excellent, with 23 fair and 17 percent poor or very poor. Ninety-four percent of Minnesota’s potato crop was rated good or excellent, with 5 percent fair. Irrigated potatoes are much more common in Minnesota than in North Dakota, so Minnesota potatoes generally fare better overall in years with less-than-ideal precipitation.

Lonnie Spokely, a Nielsville, Minn., potato grower, says some of his fields haven’t received as much rain as he wanted, but he’s hopeful of good yields.

Potato prices are relatively attractive, at least for the time being, so good yields would make this a successful year financially for growers in general, Gunnerson says.

Potatoes are susceptible to dicamba, an herbicide that has received considerable attention this summer. But Robinson says he isn’t aware of significant or widespread dicamba to the region’s potato crop this growing season.

Harlene Hatterman-Valenti, an NDSU professor who works with high-value crop production, talked during the tour about her research into the effects of dicamba and glyphosate, another herbicide, on potatoes. The work found, among other things, that weather considerations can affect the level of harm done to potatoes by dicamba.

Late blight, a dangerous crop disease, has been found again this year in both North Dakota and Minnesota potato fields, Robinson says.

Though area growers are familiar with the disease, “We need to stay vigilant,” he says.

The Red River Valley’s potato harvest is expected to begin about Sept. 10, and favorable weather—especially cool nights and another timely rain—would help potatoes bulk up, Robinson says. More precipitation also would help make dry fields easier to dig, he says.

“It’s been a good growing season, but these last few weeks will be so important,” says Robinson.


Source: AgWeek