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Associated Growers sees mixed results for the red potato market

“For the growers that had potatoes, it will be a decent year,” said Paul Dolan, the manager of Associated Potato Growers Inc.

Having potatoes if you’re a Red River Valley grower wasn’t necessarily a given for the 2016 crop.

The river valley that runs between North Dakota and Minnesota was plagued by rain in the fall and then more rain — and mud — at harvest time. It was so muddy that even the most macho field equipment couldn’t conquer the mire.

Dolan said after many spuds were entombed for a certain length of time, the quality was beyond hope and the potatoes were left in the field.

On the other hand, in the Grand Forks, ND, growing area to the south of the district, the losses weren’t as bad.

Associated-Paul-DolanPaul Dolan, manager of Associated Potato Growers Inc., based in Grand Forks, ND.Dolan said that Associated’s major packinghouse in Grand Forks will be shipping potatoes until June.

To the north, growers working with Associated’s two smaller plants in Grafton and Drayton have about a half-crop. “They will finish early,” he said.

But, on Jan. 5, Dolan said that hundredweight prices for a-sized red potatoes were in the $19-$20 range, which, for the time of the year, is the best pricing in three years.

“The movement is so slow,” he added. “There is a tremendous amount of cheap russets on the market. That is hurting red movement.

“The movement has been slower than normal by quite a bit. Our movement is 70 percent of normal. But it’s been a little better this week,” he said.

Because the Red River Valley stocks as a whole are below normal, “we are not alarmed” by slow movement,” Dolan said. “If this movement had come with last year’s [large] crop, we would have been in serious trouble.”

This shipping year, Associated Potato Growers “will do OK” on its profits. But he emphasized that Associated is all about the growers it represents and “those with potatoes will do alright. But those who left them in the ground won’t get much money.”

Approaching the second week of January, Dolan said that Red River Valley growers were starting to find buying interest from Wisconsin red potato growers, who “are getting down on red supplies.”

Red River Valley growers will be watching Florida for new crop red potato supplies. Florida’s growing weather had been good at least for the early part of the weather. Of course Florida potato availability will be influencing market prices.

As he looked toward spring planting in North Dakota, Dolan said there was three feet of snow on the ground. Over New Year’s weekend, the low temperature in Grand Forks was minus-25 degrees F.

“I’d like to be on a beach in Mexico,” he added.

Normally, the spring thaw in his corner of the world begins sometime between late March and late April. Dolan said it’s best for growers if the thaw starts early so there is a slow melt and the Red River doesn’t flood the area and its low-lying potato fields.