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Red River Valley enjoying near-record crop

Red River Valley growers of fresh market red and yellow potatoes this year are shipping five million hundredweight this season, the largest-volume crop in 20 or 25 years, according to Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director for Northern Plains Potato Growers Association based in East Grand Forks, MN.

Kreis said this isn’t an all-time record, because the Red River Valley produced more potatoes in the 1960s and 1970s, “there were a lot more wash plants,” before there were so many competing growing regions.

PMA-NPPGALawrence Kimble of Ben Holmes Potato Inc., Becker, MN; Greg Hall of J.G. Hall & Sons, Edinburg, ND; David Moquist of O.C. Schulz & Sons, Inc., Crystal, ND; Ted Kreis of Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, East Grand Forks, ND, and Tim (TJ) Johnstone of Associated Potato Growers Inc., Grand Forks, ND.“I would really like to express how great our quality is. We’ve had problems the last few years. We had mud during a wet harvest last year. In 2015 we had growth cracks” on potatoes. But, “Our quality is excellent this year,” Kreis said. As sales progress this fall, “people are coming back for more.”

Not only is the volume high and quality outstanding, but prices are even “holding their own” this fall.

On Nov. 17, Kreis said “there was an initial drop in price early, but now we’re level at $16 or $17 per hundredweight on a-sized reds. That’s a fair price. Last year we were at $20, but that was a small crop. In the last ten years, we’ve seen $10 and $11. But our cost of production is up. Sixteen dollars doesn’t look as good as it did five or ten years ago.”

In September, The Produce News reported that roughly 18 percent of the Red River Valley’s fresh potato production will be yellows this fall.

This has tripled in the last six years. “Demand for red potatoes has seen good growth, but yellow demand continues to increase at an even faster pace,” Kreis indicated.

Kreis said Red River Valley shippers join shippers of products all over the country in facing a driver shortage for trucks. This makes transportation expensive and hard to find.

While this problem may be due to a variety of factors, Kreis believes it mostly springs from Federal enforcement of e-logs — digital logging of truckers’ hours on the road. This simply reduces their availability to move products.