GRAND FORKS — Timely rains have sustained the red and yellow potato crops in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, but they will need more moisture as the crop matures.

Most red and yellow potatoes, which are sold in the fresh market, are not grown under irrigation in the Red River Valley in North Dakota and Minnesota. That means they depend entirely on rainfall.

“We’re not getting the big rains that we have had in the past, but it seems to be enough to keep things from deteriorating,” said Ted Kreis, Northern Plains Potato Growers Association marketing director.

South of Grand Forks, Kelly Grotte said his yellow and red potato fields generally look decent. Rainfall has been spotty; on Monday, June 28, for example, an inch of rain fell near his rural Thompson, N.D., farmstead, yet it rained only 0.15 inches just 2 miles from there.

The potential remains for a good potato crop, but if temperatures heat up and the rains don’t keep falling, that situation could quickly change, Grotte said.

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“Right now, we’re happy, but we're on the edge of our seat,” Grotte said. “When our lawns get brown, we’re dry, and our lawns are brown. We’re flirting with disaster.”

Farther north, in Walsh County, N.D., the condition of the potato fields varies, said Brad Brummond, NDSU Extension agent-Walsh County.

So far in Walsh County, like in Grand Forks County, rainfall has been spotty, he said. While an inch of rain fell in a narrow band along Highway 32 in Walsh County about noon on Sunday, June 26, most of the county only received 0.30 inches.

“That’s going to do nothing for our potatoes,” Brummond said.

Statewide in North Dakota, the potato crop condition was rated 10% very poor, 12% poor, 60% fair and 3% excellent for the week ending Sunday, June 27, according to National Agricultural Statistics-North Dakota. North Dakota’s topsoil moisture supplies were rated 24% very short, 42% short, 33% adequate and 1% surplus. Seventy-eight percent of the state’s subsoil supplies were short or very short and 22% were adequate.

In Minnesota, 61% of potatoes were in good to excellent condition for the week ending Sunday, June 27, according to National Agricultural Statistics Service-Minnesota. The state’s topsoil supplies were 28% very short, 47% short, 24% adequate and 1% surplus. Subsoil moisture was 22% very short, 47% short, 30% adequate and 1% surplus.

So far, the lack of rainfall hasn’t caused significant damage to the majority of the potatoes in Walsh County because they haven’t started blossoming, which is a signal the plants are growing tubers, Brummond said. During that stage, called “bulking,” the potatoes, which are made up of 80% water, are growing in size so their moisture needs greatly increase.

“They’re going to need water really soon,” he said. ”It’s going to become critical.”

In 2020, North Dakota farmers planted 72,800 acres of potatoes, including red, yellow and russet varieties. Last year, Minnesota farmers planted 45,000 potato acres, National Agricultural Statistics Service-Minnesota said. The Red River Valley in North Dakota is the largest red potato producer in the United States.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service will release its 2021 crops acreage report, which will include potatoes, on Wednesday, June 30.