NPPGA represents interests of Red River Valley potato industry
The Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, which next month will be rebranded as Northland Potatoes, has been promoting the profitability and unity of the potato growers of the adjoining states of Minnesota and North Dakota since originally being formed in 1946.
Comprised of more than 250 growers and shippers across the Red River Valley, one of the most fertile farming regions in the world where potatoes are grown on 72,000 acres in North Dakota and 8,800 acres in Minnesota, the NPPGA has long acted in the best interest of its grower members.
As of Sept. 20, the potato crop in the Red River Valley was looking good, though it’s probably not going to be a bumper crop, according to Donavon Johnson, president of the East Grand Forks, ND-based organization.
“We got planted about three weeks late across the board in our area, which is not uncommon in the Northern Plains area,” he said. “We didn’t know what the year was going to bring, but we see a crop that people will be satisfied with.
We’ve had some rough years in the past—one with drought and one with significant rain and too much water, so this is an acceptable year.”
Aside from weather issues, those working in the Red River Valley have several issues that are making things tougher, including disease on the crops and pests.
“We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on research every year on trying to identify solutions,” Johnson said. “The pests can significantly reduce the yield and the quality and impact the profitability with the growers.”
The Association also handles national issues that are importance to growers. For example, Johnson was recently in South Carolina to meet with other national potato organizations and state growing managers, to talk about various topics that can help those in the industry, including marketing efforts, national expansion and the latest trends.
“We also get involved with the national organization headquartered out of Washington, D.C., and whether its regulatory issues, government issues or something like the Farm Bill, which is coming up soon, we deal with that,” Johnson said. “I had a meeting with two senators just last week talking about the priorities from our standpoint as it relates to the Farm Bill.”
Individual growers just don’t have the time to get involved in things like this, which makes the association so important.
“They are too busy harvesting, so they rely on us to do these types of things,” Johnson said. “We get involved in research projects, work with universities and get involved with community organizations to promote potatoes,” Johnson said.
Looking at trends in the industry, Johnson noted that yellow potatoes continue to increase in production and demand, just as it has the last few years.
“The red skin potatoes have decreased and the yellow-skin potatoes have increased, and at some point, we will reach the saturation that the consumer has the amount of yellows they want to consume, and we think it may already be there,” he said. “We might be close to where red and yellows have leveled out.”
The NPPGA believes there are still things that the potato industry needs to develop to deliver a good quality product to the consumer.
“Most of the farmers are generational farmers, some third-, fourth- or fifth-generation growers,” Johnson said.
“It’s priority for growers to maintain and sustain their land; soil health is important, the sustainability of the product and where it comes from is important, and that requires various nutrients, fertilizers….and they don’t do it just to do it. Nature makes things difficult and you have to stay a step ahead of that, so growers are passionate about making sure the quality they deliver is healthy and high-quality. That’s our focus.”
Photo: Donavon Johnson