Potato harvest rolls on

Ann Bailey
Forum News Service

LARIMORE, N.D. — Russet potatoes tumbled down the conveyor of a potato harvester into a truck as the two pieces of equipment crawled in tandem down the field under the watchful eye of Carl Hoverson. The second day of the Larimore farmer’s potato harvest was going pretty smoothly, despite the rain last week and over the weekend of Sept. 14.

There were just 1.9 days suitable for fieldwork in North Dakota during the week that ended Sept. 15, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service-North Dakota. In Minnesota, the wet, cool week resulted in only 1.6 days of fieldwork during the week ending Sept. 15, the state’s National Agricultural Statistics Service said.

Topsoil and subsoil moisture in the two states were adequate or surplus in most areas of the state, the statistics services said.

The rain caused the potato fields of Hoverson and others in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota to get too wet to support equipment, stalling harvest for several days.

But a few days of sun and wind dried the fields, and by midweek most farmers were back in the business of harvest.

The russets Hoverson raises for J.R. Simplot Co. in Grand Forks are yielding about average so far, despite a cold, wet spring that delayed planting and a fairly cool growing season.

“Right now, cropwise, it looks pretty good,” Hoverson said.

He estimated the early potato harvest was yielding about 450 cwt. or hundred-pound bags per acre. The vines are still green, which means potatoes will continue to grow under them, and ideally Hoverson would like to leave them in the ground longer to get higher yields.

But with harvest behind schedule, he decided to go ahead and start digging potatoes.

“Right now, I would like to be 40 to 50% done,” he said. “The date tells you you’ve got 5,000 acres to harvest.”

Hoverson annually grows about 5,600 acres of potatoes on fields in northeastern North Dakota.

Statewide, 11% of the North Dakota potato crop was harvested as of Sept. 15, slightly below the average of 15% harvested by that date, NASS-North Dakota reported. In Minnesota, harvest was 26% complete or about 10 days behind average as of mid-September, NASS-Minnesota said.

Overall, the Red River Valley potato crop is expected to produce average yields, said Ted Kreis, Northern Plains Potato Growers Association marketing and communications director. Yields in the northern Red River Valley, where it was dry this summer, are expected to be below normal, while yields in the Grand Forks area likely will be average or slightly above average, Kreis estimated.

In 2018, the average potato per acre yield in North Dakota was 325 cwt., according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service-North Dakota. The average per acre yield in Minnesota was 430 cwt., NASS-Minnesota said. The averages are for all classes of potatoes, including russets, whites and reds. Meanwhile, the averages don’t differentiate between potatoes that are grown on dryland and and those raised under irrigation.

The quality of his russet crop this year is good, Hoverson said, and the potatoes are about average size.

“You’ve just got to them out of the ground, that’s the big thing,” he said.

But harvest is expected to be stalled again this weekend. The forecast is for another round of rain, possibly heavy, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.

There’s still plenty of time to harvest the crop, though, Hoverson said. A farmer since 1976, Hoverson is used to the vagaries of the weather.

“You take it as it comes,” he said.

A potato harvester fills a truck at Hoverson Farms during the second day of potato harvest on Thursday, Sept. 19.
Larimore, N.D., potato farmer Carl Hoverson walks across a potato field that he’s harvesting near Larimore on the second day of harvest on Sept. 19. Hoverson is hoping for drier conditions after a season of excessive rain and cool weather.