EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — As of the end of October, potato growers in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota had lost or abandoned approximately 9,000 acres of potatoes due to unprecedented amounts of rain and snow during September and October, according to Ted Kreis of Northern Plains Potato Growers Association.
“Just over nine inches of precipitation fell in September in Grand Forks — making it the wettest September on record — topping the 1957 mark by an inch and a half,” Kreis said. “It was also the fourth-wettest of any month on record dating back to 1893. The first 10 days of October added more than three additional inches. All this came just two weeks into the potato harvest.”
Then, on Halloween, the Potato Growers Association posted this on their Facebook site:
“After record precipitation earlier this fall, it has been a race to get the remainder of the Red River Valley potato crop out of the ground before cold temperatures would claim it for good. That race came to an end this week with Mother Nature claiming about half of the fresh crop. Even old-timers don't remember a year this bad. On a positive note, the potatoes already in storage look very good; but consumers should look for higher prices and an earlier than normal end to the Red River Valley shipping season.”
Red River Valley potato farmers make up the largest portion of fresh red potatoes grown in the United States. The potatoes from the Valley are shipped throughout the continental United States.
“Roughly half of the potatoes grown in the immediate Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota were left in the ground,” Kreis said. “Mostly reds and yellows for the fresh market and seed potatoes and some chipping potatoes. The frozen processing crop fared better because much is grown outside the Valley in sandier soil. But there will be losses there as well.”
Kreis said farmers and gardeners reliant upon certified seed potatoes for planting will likely see higher than usual seed prices in the spring. He estimated about half the Valley’s seed crop was lost.
“Harvest conditions were the worst ever — without any doubt,” he said.
Flooding in the Red River has made harvest of other crops in the Valley difficult as well. In late September, Grand Forks received over six inches of rain in six hours, causing major roads into the city to close. In mid-October, following a record-breaking blizzard, seasonal sugar beet workers were evacuated from camp grounds along the Red as it poured over its banks. By early November, sugar beet processors were accepting frozen beets; but the river was near or at flood stage from Moorhead to the Canadian border. Those farmers with standing grain say they are waiting for the ground to freeze hard so they can get into their fields.
The potato harvest failure is affecting a wide swath of the economy in the Valley. On Nov. 7, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to declare a disaster for 12 counties of northwestern Minnesota. On Nov. 1, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to designate a disaster for 47 of the state’s 53 counties. Burgum had declared a statewide flood emergency on Oct. 21.