(Nov. 2) EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — Potato yields and color should be good as potato harvesting season in the Red River Valley closes up.

However, transportation problems are causing shippers to use the railroads more.

Recent rains have not significantly harmed the quality of the potato harvest, but it has caused growers to leave some potatoes in the ground, according to grower/shippers in Minnesota and North Dakota.

“The tricky part has been finding a window of opportunity to harvest with all the rain,” said Ted Kreis, marketing director for the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, East Grand Forks.

Ron Norman, sales manager for Ryan Potato Co., East Grand Forks, said because of the rain, the company left about 1% of the crop in the ground.

In North Dakota, Paul Dolan, general manager for Associated Potato Growers Inc., Grand Forks, said their harvesting was done, and the wet ground would cause them to leave a small percentage of potatoes in the ground.

On Nov. 2, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the Minnesota and Red River Valley area, prices for 50-pound sacks of size A round reds were mostly at $4.75 while size Bs were at $8.

Norman said the potatoes were good quality.

“We have the nicest color in the country because of the heavy soil,” he said.

Dolan said that in addition to the very good color and overall good quality of the crop, he expects no storage problems from this crop.

He said damper conditions tend to hold the darker color well, and he explained that when more soil is left on the potatoes during the digging process, the soil protects them and keeps them from bruising as much while stored.

Norman saidsize is good and yields are about the same as usual. He did say the small size is about gone, but they still have average size available.

According to Norman, the B market has gone up $3-4 in the past 2-3 weeks, and demand was fairly strong.

Boushey said the B market was relatively tight, and growers are being careful not to overbook on Bs.

Dolan said the yield has been average to above-average and the size, too, has been very good.

Kreis said there have been slightly fewer “jumbo” size potatoes, but overall, the quality of the harvest has been very good with no disease and very few if any storage problems.

He said Duane Preston, extension agronomist for North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota, reported recently that most yields are average, but some fields from the northern part of North Dakota are possibly yielding higher than normal.

Quality and yields may be good, but the transportation issue is another story.

“Trucks have been a disaster for the whole industry,” said Norman. He has more and more customers requesting rail, but he foresees some upcoming problems with rail shipments, too.

Kreis said shippers are using the railroad as much as they can, but finding railroad cars can also become a problem. In addition, the rail offers slower delivery than does trucking.

Dolan said his company has been shipping by rail for about 2 weeks. Although he said it is going better than expected, he doesn’t know if that is going to continue as the demand for rail picks up.

Boushey said, “We have the capacity to go to rail, but at this point we haven’t levitated to that.”

As to what they are doing to compensate for the higher costs, Boushey said, “There’s no way the industry can support the additional costs of transportation. The costs are being passed upstream and are going to the end-user.”

But he did say that because there has been such a significant change, customers are more understanding. They see the higher fuel costs themselves at the gas pumps and know those costs will affect other areas of their lives as well.