Most growers in the Red River Valley are optimistic independent truckers will be available to haul their crop and prices will remain stable.

Transportation availability can be different every year, said David Moquist, owner and sales manager at O.C. Schulz & Sons Inc., Crystal, N.D.

Many independent truckers were struggling a bit at the end of last year.

“We hope that they’ve survived OK, and that they’re around to haul our crop this year.  We depend a lot on independent truckers,” Moquist said.

Moquist said the company could ship on rail, too, but delivery is dependent on the receiver.

Cheaper fuel costs may alleviate some of the problems faced last year.

The trucking industry is a bit short handed, but the rail industry can be problematic too, said Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director at Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, East Grand Forks, Minn.

Tri-Campbell Farms, Grafton, N.D., is in the transportation business and owns trucks and a logistics company that does business all year, said Tom Campbell, an owner.

Fewer products seem to be moving because of the recession, Campbell said.

“We’re always buying or selling. We have a Florida farm and a packing shed that we start in February through May, so we’re always sourcing trucks. So far, because of the recession, I wouldn’t say there’s a surplus of trucks, but a lot of trucks are out because the economy is full and there’s excess logistics capacity,” Campbell said. “Right now, I’m not anticipating any shortages or problems, but that could change. And fuel is OK right now too. It’s not as high as it was last year.”

Ryan Potato Co., East Grand Forks, Minn., owns its own trucking company and uses outside companies, said Mike Rerick, sales manager.

Prices appear to be steady in central Minnesota.

“We’re hopeful that prices will hold where they’re at and we can start in the same area that they left off at,” Moquist said.

In early October, the USDA reported prices of $16-16.50 for 50-pound cartons of size B red potatoes.

Prices won’t be as inexpensive as they have been in the past, but won’t be as expensive as they were a year ago, said Steve Tweten, president of NoKota Packers Inc., Buxton, N.D.

“I think the prices for the red potatoes will be a fair price,” Tweten said.

Rerick agreed and said prices will most likely not start out as high as they did last year.

Prices have “been falling a little bit down in the Minnesota market, but I think in the Valley we’ll be able to get back into a decent market range,” said Cory Seim, general manager of Northern Valley Growers LLC, Hoople, N.D.

Prices should be down from last year as long as nothing disastrous occurs, but it’s hard to tell what they’ll be this early in the season, said Bryan Folson, president of Folson Farm Corp., East Grand Forks.

Red potato prices are stronger than russet prices, Kreis said.

“Ninety-seven percent of what we ship for the fresh market are red potatoes from here, so we’re fortunate,” he said.