The potato harvest continues in the Red River Valley, despite some of driest conditions Randy Boushey has seen in his career.
The National Weather Service reported in early October the region containing Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn. — the center of the potato industry in the Red River Valley — is dealing with “extreme drought” conditions.
Boushey, president and chief executive officer of A&L Potato Co., East Grand Forks, said the drought is as bad as any he has experienced in the potato business.
“And, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years,” he said.
Growers across the valley have been harvesting spuds since early September, which is normal, according to the East Grand Forks-based Great Plains Potato Growers Association, which has a membership of 250 growers representing 80,000 acres in North Dakota and 47,000 in Minnesota.
Rock-hard dirt clods
Digging is not easy to do in dry soil that clings to the potatoes in rock-hard clumps, growers say.
“Can’t carry any dirt on the harvester, and you have dirt clumps that bruise the potatoes,” said Paul Dolan, general manager of Associated Potato Growers Inc., Grand Forks.
That’s the situation growers have been dealing with for months, even though occasional, widely scattered showers provided relief to some growers, said Ted Kreis, the association’s marketing director.
“From the northern part of the valley to the southern part of the valley there was quite a difference in rainfall,” he said.
That wasn’t the case for most of the area, according to the weather service, which reported most areas having received little rainfall from Sept. 13 to the end of the month.
Some counties were declared agricultural disaster areas due to the drought.
The weather bureau’s station in Grand Forks reported a yearly total of 15.39 inches of rain for the year, compared to a normal of 20.09. The city got 0.88 inches of rain in September, down from the normal of 3 inches.
The only significant drenching the city got during the growing season was 2.06 inches July 13, according to the weather service.
But higher-than-normal temperatures mitigated the benefits of the moisture, said Bryan Folson, general manager of East Grand Forks-based Folson Farms Inc..
“It was so hot, the evaporation was much more than usual, too, so that hurt the situation,” he said.
The digging goes on, but growers are having to leave some product in the fields, Boushey said.