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'A very good' year on tap for Red River Valley

by Tad Thompson | October 07, 2010

"I think it's going to be a very good year," Ted Kreis said of this year’s Red River Valley potato marketing season. Mr. Kreis is the marketing director of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association in East Grand Forks, MN.

“We looked at the overall anticipated crop of other red [potato] growing areas. It seems there will be a favorable market this year.” This is because the growers in Washington state’s Skagit Valley and Wisconsin “are down.” He said Wisconsin had exceptional yields last year now some areas are below normal. “Florida is not planting as many this year.” On Sept. 15, prices were in the neighborhood of $15 to $16 per hundredweight. “Last year they were $10 to $12.”

The Red River Valley is projecting “a crop that is a little larger than last year overall,” he said. “We were down last year because of crop losses due to weather. We should rebound to a typical or slightly above average crop.”

Mr. Kreis said that various Red River Valley growers will likely experience “yields all over the board” in 2010 because June rain “drowned some areas and caused seed rot. Close by, where there was not standing water, yields will be above average. Overall this is an average to slightly above average crop.” The harvest started in mid-August.

Some companies, such as A&L Potato Co. Inc. in East Grand Forks, MN, and NoKota Packers Inc. in Buxton, ND, pack and ship as soon as the harvest begins. As a result, such companies “have been in the summer crop market for a while.” But that practice, Mr. Kreis added, “is very limited up here. The vast majority” of Red River Valley potatoes “go into storage and they start shipping in another month.”

As of mid-September, “two or three plants are shipping off the field now. That is a small part of our business,” he said.

At that time, 25-30 percent of the crop had been harvested. “When we finish depends on the weather and when the growers planted. Some planted very late, so they could go into mid- to late October. The harvest will be spread out” until the end of October, Mr. Kreis emphasized. He expected the first of the storage potatoes to come out for packing and shipping around Oct. 1.

“We are hearing the quality looks very good,” he said. “I’ve seen some of the potatoes. They have a beautiful dark red color.”

In June, late blight was detected in a few Red River Valley fields. The plant disease “can spread very quickly through the air” but can be controlled if growers are forewarned, Mr. Kreis said.

Plant scientists at North Dakota State University cooperated with the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association to “get a good handle on what could have been a disaster.”

(For more on Red River Valley potatoes, see the Oct. 11, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)