Red River Valley potato volumes could be down 10-20% because of heavy June rains, but grower-shippers are reporting excellent quality and a good mix of sizes.


New-crop reds from Grafton, N.D.-based Tri-Campbell Farms should be on retail shelves by mid-September, said Tom Campbell, an owner and sales manager.


Rains earlier in the growing season wiped out 15-20% of the valley crop, Campbell said, but good weather later in the season should make up for at least half of those losses, he said.


“It may turn out to be a little under average,” Campbell said of the crop size. “And the quality is excellent.”


Campbell also expects a normal size profile, with Bs making up 20-25% of the red crop.


Dave Moquist, co-owner of O.C. Schulz & Sons Inc., Crystal, N.D., was happy with the color and quality of spuds in late August, but he said “time will tell” how big yields will be, given the huge rains that drowned fields earlier this season.


He said production losses in the valley could be as high as 15%-20% from fields that were totally wiped out by rain, and another 5% from lower yields. Nevertheless, he doesn’t foresee a shortage.


“I think we’ll have good supplies, keep the trade supplied,” he said.


Schulz & Sons, which puts all of its potatoes in storage, plans to begin shipping in mid- to late October, about a week to ten days later than normal, due not only to the rains but to a cooler than usual summer.


NoKota Packers Inc., Buxton, N.D., expects to begin shipping by mid-September, about three weeks later than normal, said Steve Tweten, president.


While it was too soon to tell for sure until digging began, NoKota’s losses could be as low as 10%, Tweten said.


“Our growers were fortunate and missed out on a lot of the excessive rains,” he said.


Tweten reported a normal size profile and “real nice” quality in early September.


Idaho’s effects


Markets could be a challenge this year for valley growers, given the start to the Idaho season and its downward effect on prices, Campbell said. Reds aren’t russets, he said, but especially in a recession, the phrase “a potato’s a potato” does have a fair amount of truth in it.


“We like to think we’re in our own little niche, but if a bag of russets is $1.99 and we’re right next to it trying to get $3.99, it’s tough,” Campbell said. “I’m a little bit concerned about it. There’s not going to be a shortage of potatoes this year.”


Moquist was hopeful that red markets would be able to steer clear of the depths russets found themselves in early in the deal.


“I don’t believe we’ll be in quit the mode russet shippers are in at the moment,” he said. “From all indications, I don’t think there will be an oversupply of reds.”


While it was too soon to make predictions with any certainty, in early September Tweten was looking forward to a good start to the Red River Valley deal.


“I don’t think there’s any reason to believe we won’t have at least our normal demand,” he said. “But ask me in another month and see what I have to say.”


On Sept. 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $10 for 50-pound sacks of size A red potatoes from Central Minnesota, down from $11-12 last year at the same time.


Campbell, Moquist and Tweten said an isolated finding of late blight in two North Dakota potato fields would have no effect on the region’s volumes this season.