The Red River Valley is the largest producer of red potatoes in the nation and the area’s yellow potato crop is quickly increasing, as production has grown more than 15 percent in the last 10 years, representing nearly 30 percent of the segment, according to Northland Potatoes.
Between the open plains of North Dakota and the forested lake country of northern Minnesota, the Red River Valley is one of the most fertile farming regions in the world thanks to its nutrient-rich black earth, watered by prairie rains instead of irrigation, making it ideal for potato farmers.
That’s why anyone who works in the region can proudly say that the Red River Valley produces the best potatoes year after year.
It’s also one of the earliest places in the U.S. that potatoes were planted, as some of the earliest potatoes were planted near Pembina, ND during the 19th century and farmers have been perfecting potato growing ever since.
This year, across the Northern Plains Region, potatoes are grown on nearly 72,000 acres in North Dakota and 8,800 acres in Minnesota.
Over the past decade, there has been a number of innovations improving things in the Red River Valley, as growers work to overcome some of the challenges that the potato industry has faced in recent years, including labor issues, higher costs and weather challenges.
NoKota Packers Inc., which exclusively packs potatoes from its approximately 2,500 acres in Buxton, ND, believes working in the Red River Valley adds to its success thanks to all it offers.
“Many people who have moved on—some even states away — still return to purchase potatoes whenever they are in the area,” said Carissa Olsen, president and CEO of the Buxton, ND-based company. “The people in the Red River Valley know a good thing when they see — and taste it.”
At retail, Olsen thinks promoting red or yellow potatoes at the store level is still a huge draw for customers.
“We need to see more front page ads, bigger displays, display locations and more in-store promotions,” she said. “Ads and displays will drive sales regardless of pricing.”
The Red River Valley is the bottom of what was once Lake Agassiz, a massive glacial lake larger than even the mighty Great Lakes. As the huge glacier plowed over the land, it deposited a layer of silt, clay, sand and rock that slowly transformed into the valley’s rich soil, setting the area up to become one of the world’s most successful farming regions.
As the only grower-owned cooperative in the Red River Valley, Associated Potato Growers Inc., is the largest volume shipper of potatoes in the area, with 17 North Dakota and Minnesota farmers under its umbrella. The Grand Forks, ND-based company credits its strong potato production to the outstanding farmers and the incredible land they get to work on year after year.
O.C. Schulz & Sons Inc., a family owned and operated business which has been growing potatoes in the Red River Valley for more than 50 years, understands that the potatoes coming from the ground are different from those growing elsewhere in the country.
“It is all about the soil,” said David Moquist, a partner in the Crystal, ND-based company. “It gives good red color with clear skin. And yellows generally have bright clear skin as well.”
Thanksgiving is right around the corner and that often means a house full of energetic, playful kids! So if you’re needing something fun for them to do while cooking up a delicious meal, these potato-inspired Thanksgiving coloring pages are perfect! Download the PDF here: Thanksgiving Coloring Pages
A must watch! TJ Hall of Hall’s Potatoes talks with The Packer about Northland Potato Growers—who we are, what makes our soil and potatoes unique, what’s next for Northland Potatoes and more! A special thanks to The Packer for creating and sharing this video with us! Take a listen…
State’s potato growers planted 47,000 acres in 2022, up 5,000 acres from 2021
Minnesota potato production in 2022 totaled 19.1 million cwt, up 9 percent from 2021, according to the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service – Potatoes 2022 Summary. (Lars Blankers, Unsplash)
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota potato production in 2022 totaled 19.1 million cwt, up 9 percent from 2021, according to the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service – Potatoes 2022 Summary.
The state’s potato growers planted 47,000 acres, up 5,000 acres from 2021. Harvested acres in 2022 were reported at 46,700, up 5,400 acres from the previous year. Average yield per acre, at 410 cwt, was down 4 percent from the previous year. Price per cwt, at $12.40, was $1.70 above 2021. Total value of production of the Minnesota’s potato crop was $237 million in 2022, up 26 percent from 2021.
Northern Plains potato production is valued at $500 million, employs 5,600 full-time equivalent workers and makes up 17% of the agriculture and food processing industry.
The potato trucks rumbling down the roads of North Dakota and western Minnesota during the September harvest season carry a commodity that contributes significantly to the health of the northern Plains economy.
The region’s potato production — the third largest in the United States — is valued at $500 million, employs 5,600 full-time equivalent workers and makes up 17% of the agriculture and food processing industry, according to Northland Potato Growers Association’s website.
Potatoes have long been a staple in northern Plains fields — in 1943, North Dakota farmers planted a record 191,000 acres — but the industry has greatly evolved and changed as technology, the advent of irrigation and improved varieties have resulted in the production of more hundredweight on fewer acres.
In 1984, for example, North Dakota farmers planted 136,000 acres of potatoes and Minnesota farmers planted 72,500.
North Dakota’s total potato production in 1984 was 20.6 million hundredweight and Minnesota’s was 13.8 million hundredweight.
Twenty-eight years later, in 2022, North Dakota farmers planted 74,000 acres, 47% fewer acres than they did in 1984, but total production in 2022 was 30 million hundredweight, which was 32% higher than in 1984.
Average per-acre yields in North Dakota in 2022 were 315 hundredweight, more than double the 155 hundredweight per acre farmers harvested in 1984.
In Minnesota, farmers planted 47,000 acres of potatoes in 2022, 25,200 fewer acres than in 1984, but both years produced about 20 million hundredweight.
Minnesota’s average 2022 yields of 430 hundredweight per acre were 63% higher than the average per-acre yield of 190 hundredweight in 1984.
Irrigation has been one of the major drivers of the production increase.
In general, about 60% of the potatoes in the northern Plains are grown under irrigation and used for processing, said Donavon Johnson, Northland Potato Growers Association president.
The drought years of 1987-1989, were the impetus for the move from growing dryland potatoes for processing to growing processing potatoes under irrigation, said Duane “Sarge” Preston, retired Extension potato specialist for North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota.
The drought years reduced the quality of potatoes — they were small in size — and the quantity of the crop, which resulted in a shortage for the processors.
“We had to have a steady supply of potatoes, and we weren’t achieving this,” said Preston, who worked as U of M Extension and NDSU Extension potato specialist from 1977-2007.
A couple of farmers in the Red River Valley of North Dakota began growing potatoes under irrigation in the early 1990s, and then irrigated acreage was added near the North Dakota towns of Oakes and Karlsruhe and in Kidder County.
By 2018, there were a total of 28,300 acres of irrigated potatoes acres in North Dakota, according to NDSU.
Despite a cold, wet spring that delayed the start of spring planting, the 2023 irrigated potatoes are in good condition, said Andy Robinson, NDSU Extension and U of M Extension potato agronomist. Warm temperatures in late June and early July pushed potato development, and the majority of the harvest was expected to begin during the first full week in September, weather permitting.
Some irrigated potato fields had been harvested earlier in August, Robinson said on Aug. 24, 2023. Those potatoes were being hauled directly to the processing plant and were not put in storage.
It is difficult to put an exact number of yields, because the potato crop could put on as much as 40- to 50-hundredweight per acre between the third week in August and harvest, Robinson said.
“There ‘s still a lot of time for that to happen,” he said. “Right now, I’d say we’re probably around average.”
Johnson also declined to give an exact estimate of potato yields but said he expected it to be, overall, an “average year.”
North Dakota’s potato crop yielded an average of 325 hundredweight per acre between the years of 2019-2021 and Minnesota’s crop averaged 425 hundredweight during that same time period, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Besides the increase in irrigated acreage, another reason that fewer farmers now are producing more potatoes is that researchers have developed improved varieties of processing potatoes so farmers weren’t limited only to the Russet Burbank, Preston said.
For example, in 2012, the Dakota Russet, a variety developed by Asunta “Susie” Thompson was released. Often called “the grower’s potato,” the Dakota Russet is high yielding and doesn’t require as much fertilizer and water as some other varieties.
In addition to conducting research on increasing yields and improving varieties, NDSU Extension and U of M Extension researchers also work on weed and insect control in potatoes and on the efficacy of herbicides, Robinson said.
Many of the researchers, including Robinson, were on hand at Northland Potato Growers Association’s annual field held on Aug. 24, 2023. The field day gives growers an update on the Extension and USDA potato research projects and to ask them about what they perceive are future research needs.
The field day also included tours of potato fields of Oberg Farms near Hoople, North Dakota, and the Forest River Hutterite Colony near Forest River, North Dakota.
Matthew Maendel, Forest River Hutterite Colony crop farm manager, was optimistic about potato yields, he said during an interview with an Agweek reporter at the Aug. 24 field day.
The majority of the colony’s 1,000 acres of irrigated potatoes grown are for processing. Though the potatoes were planted this spring a few days later than average, they appeared to a good size as harvest approached, he said.
The Forest River Hutterite Colony planned to begin digging the potatoes during the last week of August or early September. During the harvest, from 15 to 30 semi-tractor trailer loads of Ranger Russet potatoes are hauled from fields near Forest River to J.R. Simplot in Grand Forks, where they will be processed into french fries.
“We’re feeding one of the main lines of the processing plant,” Maendel said on Aug. 24, 2023.
The Forest River Hutterite Colony also has 500 acres of Russet Burbank potatoes near McVille, North Dakota, which will be stored and later hauled to J.R. Simplot for processing. The harvest of those potatoes will begin during the second week of September, weather permitting.
While dry conditions didn’t affect the irrigated crop yields in 2023, it may have resulted in lower yields of red potatoes grown for the fresh market and also could result in some misshapen potatoes that are smaller than is typical, Robinson noted.
About 40% of the potatoes in North Dakota and Minnesota are grown for the fresh market.
Harvest of the northern Plains potato crop typically takes about a month, Robinson said.
If the weather is favorable for digging potatoes, the harvest is completed by Oct. 10.
“It doesn’t always happen, but it’s ideal because you know it’s going to get cold, the snow is going to happen,” Robinson said. “Bad things happen when it freezes with potatoes in the ground, we don’t want that.”
Johnson called fresh and processed potatoes’ contribution to the economy of the towns and cities of North Dakota and western Minnesota “huge.”
“It goes all the way from growing the product, certainly managing it, storing it,” he said. “In our area, we have processing plants.”
That means after the crop is harvested, the commodity has a ripple effect on the economy through the employment of wash plant workers, processing plant workers and transportation industry workers.
“Instead of shipping them off, we have a lot of workforce that gets involved in the processing of the potatoes throughout the year,” Johnson said.
DENVER (August 23, 2023) –U.S. potato exports reached record value and volume in the 12-month period from July 2022 – June 2023. Export values increased 19.05% to $2.2 billion, and export volume increased 3.85% to 3.3 million metric tons (fresh weight equivalent).
U.S. potato export values increased across all categories (frozen, fresh, dehydrated, seed, and chips), with double-digit rises in all but seed potatoes. The increase in export volume was led by dehydrated potatoes and chips, which rose by 25.63% and 11.19%, respectively. Overall, approximately 20% of U.S. potatoes are exported.
In the period July 2022 – June 2023, Mexico became the United States’ largest potato export market for the first time, followed by Canada and Japan. The entire Mexican market opened to U.S. fresh potato exports in May 2022.
The value of U.S. frozen potato exports rose by 20.43%, reaching $1.4 billion despite a 4.54% decrease in volume compared to the previous 12 months. For U.S. frozen potatoes, the top export markets were Japan, Mexico, and South Korea. Frozen export values increased in all three countries, with a significant 25.93% growth in export volume to Japan.
The value of exported dehydrated potatoes increased by 24.00% to reach $257 million, and volume increased by 25.63% to reach 965,523 metric tons. The top destinations for U.S. dehydrated potatoes were Canada, Japan, and Mexico, and exports increased in value and volume for each of these countries.
The value of fresh potato sales rose 15.57% from the previous 12 months to $310.4 million, though the volume of U.S. fresh potato shipments decreased slightly by 3.07%. Canada, Mexico, and Japan were the top export markets for U.S. fresh potatoes, with both value and volume increasing to Mexico.
Although representing smaller portions of U.S. potato exports, potato chips increased in value by 11.34% and in volume by 11.19%. Seed potato exports also increased in value by 3.68%, though volume decreased by 5.82%. The export value of U.S. potato chips and seed potatoes amounted to $219.0 million and $15.1 million, respectively.
Trade Data Monitor compiles the data from the United States Department of Commerce, Foreign Trade Division, using the Harmonized Coding System, Schedule B. Potatoes USA accepts no liability for the content of these reports, or the consequences of any actions taken based on any information contained herein. Questions on the trade figures, international trade leads, and Potatoes USA international marketing programs should be directed to Media@PotatoesUSA.com.
About Potatoes USA
Potatoes USA is the national marketing and promotion board representing U.S. growers and importers. Potatoes USA, the largest vegetable commodity board, was established in 1971 by potato farmers to promote the benefits of eating potatoes. For more information on Potatoes USA’s mission to “Strengthen Demand for Potatoes,” visit PotatoesUSA.com.
Join Chefs RJ Harvey and Aurora Hollenbeck for a live demonstration from the Spud Lab to explore the incredible possibilities of a potato vinaigrette! Vibrant, free from additives, and a delicious addition to any plate.
Whether you prefer Ranch, Caesar, Tzatziki, or just a plain vinaigrette, these recipes can be customized to your palate. Come hungry to learn how these versatile recipes can add flavor, texture, and nutrients to summer vegetables and savory dishes.
What happens once the potatoes leave the field? Rob Sharkey – The Shark Farmer Visits Hoople, North Dakota to meet with TJ Hall at Hall’s Potato Processing Facility, a family operation for nearly 75 years and counting!
TJ offers a behind-the-scenes look at their wash plant and ground-breaking electronic grading machine, while highlighting just what makes Red River Valley potatoes the ‘filet mignon’ of potatoes! (Rob’s words, and we certainly agree!) Take a listen!
The ‘wow’ factor and the reality of mobile, automated potato cleaning
If you’re convinced the only way your potato field can, year after year, produce so many rocks is that they must be reproducing underground, you’re not alone. Harvesting rock and debris alongside one’s potatoes is a frustrating and expensive reality of production.
Until recently, producers haven’t had good post-harvest handling options. Operating a picking line is costly, inefficient and, as fewer and fewer people are willing to take on menial piece-work, increasingly challenging to staff. Shipping direct from field to processor without cleaning means hefty penalties imposed on debris. Cleaning in the yard means paying to move tare from field to yard and back again; storing without cleaning means paying to store dirt, rocks and vines, not to mention an increased likelihood of bruising, nicking, skinning and/or heating and rot.
There is, however, a better way.
In the past ten years, several companies have come forward with various versions of fully or nearly fully automated potato cleaning lines. Rather than depending heavily on human labor, the lines use a series of conveyor belts, vibrating tables and air pressure to separate harvest from debris. While both positive air (blowing) and negative air (vacuum pressure) versions are available, negative air technology is less dusty and — just as it is easier to clean a house by vacuuming than by blowing dirt out one’s door — more effective.
In just the past two years, automated potato cleaning lines have made one new and enormous step forward: full mobility. Contained on a single semi-trailer that can be moved between locations at highway speed, today’s diesel powered, telescoping units can be set up and operational right in one’s field in as little as 30 minutes. Showing these units off at industry tradeshows is a ton of fun; growers are so wowed by the mobile technology that the most common comment I’ve heard is: “I wouldn’t have believed it if I wasn’t actually seeing it!”
Separating rocks and debris from clean dirt right in the field offers multiple benefits. In addition to cost savings and enhanced efficiency, sieving out the garbage on-site allows a producer to increase the fertility of a field for future years, potentially opening up marginal land. It also means today’s producer has the option to plant potatoes following a corn rotation since root balls are no longer a concern.
Given that automated potato cleaning lines can handle 3500 to 5000 sacks per hour, they tend to best suit large operations. Return on investment varies largely based on the volume of product going across the conveyors and how much debris needs to be separated from one’s tubers. Some farmers who implement this technology report decreasing their picking lines from 35 or 40 people to just three or four. In a case like that, labor savings alone could pay off the machinery in just a couple years.
Today’s farm consolidation, per acre production increases and tight labor market mean maximizing efficiency is more vital to farm business success than ever before. Mobile, automated potato cleaning lines are just one of many new efficiency-focused innovations coming soon to a field near you.
The 2023 edition of the Annual Potato Yearbook is now available, highlighting progress on NPC’s national legislative, regulatory, and marketing priorities. The Yearbook also features updated U.S. and world potato production and consumption stats, grower and industry contact information, position statements, and program overviews.
Noting the recent release of the Spud Nation economic impact report, which is included in the 2023 Yearbook, NPC President RJ Andrus writes in his message, “NPC’s Spud Nation report cements the fact that potatoes are an essential component to our prosperity as a nation, built and sustained by America’s potato growers, who put people to work in every city and town across our great country. Armed with this report and the relationships we have built with our allies in Congress, NPC and our state partners look forward to “Standing Up for Potatoes on Capitol Hill” and moving our industry’s policy interests forward this year and beyond.”
Click here to view an electronic version of the 2023 Annual Potato Yearbook.