(Aug. 29) GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Less than two weeks before harvest was to get under way in earnest, potato growers in the Red River Valley were still trying to assess damage caused by waves of heavy rainfall that struck the area Aug. 27-28.

“The last couple of days we’ve had some problems,” Ron Norman, manager of Ryan Potato Co., East Grand Forks, Minn., said Aug. 29. “Some places had 8 to 10 inches of rain. A lot of guys were saying they had 5 or 6 inches. We’re in a position where we can’t take anymore.”

Even before the rains — some residents in Park River, where most of the region’s potatoes are grown, were reporting rainfall amounts of 12 inches — the potato deal was already running more than week late, said Duane Maatz, director of the East Grand Forks-based Northern Plain Potato Growers Association.

“This year, like most of the country, we’re a week to 10 days behind schedule,” he said. “We’ve had people killing vines this week, preparing for harvest, so that puts us out to the week of Sept. 9.”

Harvest normally gets under way around Sept. 1, he said.

Association officials were still trying to gauge any damage the rain had caused.

“In Walsh County, they really haven’t seen this since the early or mid-1990s, at least not to this extent,” Maatz said. “It comes at a time when we’re needing rain late in the season, but nobody needs 5-6 inches at a time.”

Many fields were saturated, Maatz added.

“There is a lot of standing water,” he said. “Our subsoil moisture is very high. Our water table has been very high the last four years.”

As if rain didn’t pose enough danger to the crops, what sometimes follows downpours can be equally damaging, Maatz said.

“Part of our concern is, conditions now are humid and foggy, and we’ll probably reach 85 degrees today,” he said Aug. 29. “So it will be warm and uncomfortable. After a rain like that, most crops would recover if we stayed at 65-75 degrees, rather than getting as warm as we will today.”

Flooding also presented a possible hazard for days after the rains, he said.

Hopes for a good crop remain high, however, Maatz said.

“Last year, we harvested about 25.3 million cwt. in North Dakota and about 18 million in Minnesota, and this year, we’ll probably have a little more because we’re slightly up in acres,” Maatz said. “I’d expect a fairly stable number of potatoes overall.”