Potatoes in the field looking bleak

Rains hamper harvest with majority of crop still in the ground in North Dakota.

A potato harvester fills a truck at Hoverson Farms during the second day of potato harvest on Thursday, Sept. 19. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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With more than half of North Dakota’s potatoes still in the field, the outlook for harvesting a good quality crop after the latest round of rain and snowfall is poor.

“It’s pretty bleak,” said Ted Kreis, Northern Potato Growers Association marketing and communications director. As of Sunday, Oct. 6, 45% of North Dakota’s potato crop had been harvested, National Agricultural Statistics Service-North Dakota said. Last year, 73% of the state’s potato fields had been harvested by that day, the statistics service said. On average, 69% of the North Dakota crop is harvested as of Oct. 6.

In Minnesota, 68% of the state’s potatoes had been harvested as of Oct. 6, which meant the harvest was eight days behind average, National Agricultural Statistics Service-Minnesota said.

A late, wet spring, combined with as much as 10 inches of rain during the past month has hampered the harvest of potatoes — and every other crop in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

The percentage of potatoes harvested may have increased slightly since Oct. 6 because a few farmers were able to get into the field earlier this week, but the majority of the North Dakota crop still is in the ground.


The remaining acres will be difficult, if not impossible, to harvest.

“It doesn’t look promising because we were getting a lot of rain, and the ground was already saturated before this happened,” Kreis said Thursday, Oct. 10. “This” was the rain and snow that began falling across northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota Thursday morning.

A year ago to the day, as much as 19 inches of snow fell in northeastern North Dakota. However, there weren’t as many acres of potatoes left in the field on Oct. 10, 2018, nor was it as wet before the snowfall, Kreis said.

“I think it’s much worse than last year,” he said. “You’re going to have to have dry, windy, sunny days for an extended period of time to get back in the field.”

If the rain had stopped Thursday, it would take two weeks of dry weather before farmers could get back in the field, Kreis estimated.

“Even then, I don’t think the low spots would dry out enough. Definitely, it’s the worst since I’ve been here, and I think it could go down as the worst ever,” said Kreis, who has been NPPGA marketing and communications director since 2004.

The wet, snowy weather is unfavorable for sugar beets, another root crop, but Dan Gowan, American Crystal Sugar Co., director of agriculture remained optimistic on Thursday that the crop would still be harvested this month.

“We’re about 33% done with harvest,” Gowan said.


However, he said he believes that farmers will be able to harvest their remaining acres, just as they did last year when they got back in the field after the Oct. 10 snowfall.

“We had 6 million tons to get when everything went terrible, weather-wise,” said Gowan, noting that farmers were able to harvest all but 3,000 of the 384,000 they planted last year.

He hopes that the scenario this year will be similar.

“Even if we could get going by the 17th, we could wrap this up on the 26th,” he said.

Besides potatoes and sugar beets, hundreds of thousands of wheat, edible beans, soybeans, sunflowers and corn acres are unharvested in northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. If and when those crops are harvested will depend on when the snow melts, and, if it does, when the ground freezes so it is firm enough to support combines.

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