Nearly forty million acres are devoted to ranching and farming in North Dakota. Cattle outnumber people by more than two to one. North Dakota has earned a reputation for quality agricultural products including beans, honey, flaxseed, sugar beets, and sunflower seeds. Soybeans and wheat are the leading crops. The thick, black loam of the Red River Valley ranks among the richest agricultural land in the world. The state’s motto, “Strength from the Soil,” recognizes the role that agriculture plays in the state’s economy.
Among the agricultural products found in the state, perhaps potatoes are somewhat overlooked. On this date in 1904, an article in the Washburn Leader urged farmers to pay closer attention to the humble potato. According to the newspaper, “There is no locality on earth where more or better potatoes can be raised than right in North Dakota.” The newspaper felt that the state’s potato crop had fallen into neglect. A few years prior, no inspection of a potato crop was necessary, since the label “Grown in North Dakota” was enough to guarantee quality. But that was no longer the case. Potatoes were too likely to be affected by rot and might be stringy and tasteless.
The newspaper blamed the deterioration on carelessness. Farmers didn’t exercise enough care in choosing their seed potatoes. They also planted different varieties in the same field. This resulted in a jumbled harvest with different types of potatoes mixed together. One more problem was the potato beetle. Farmers were urged to be proactive and take preventative measures to protect their crop.
The Red River Valley is particularly good for potatoes. At one time, the valley was under Lake Agassiz, a glacial lake even bigger than the Great Lakes. It left behind a rich layer of silt, clay, and sand.
It may come as a surprise that North Dakota has become one of the country’s major potato-growing states. In 2020, potatoes accounted for over two hundred million dollars of income.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Farm Flavor. “North Dakota Agriculture 2020.” https://www.farmflavor.com/north-dakota-agriculture/#:~:text=North%20Dakota%E2%80%99s%20sub-humid%20continental%20climate%20is%20perfect%20for,spaghetti%2C%20chances%20are%20it%20contains%20North%20Dakota%20wheat. Accessed 2/1/2021.
Red River Valley Potatoes. “The Valley.” https://www.redrivervalleypotatoes.com/the-valley/#:~:text=At%20the%20beginning%20of%20the%2020th%20century%2C%20potatoes,red-skinned%20potatoes%20known%20as%20%E2%80%9CRed%20River%20Valley%20Reds.%E2%80%9D Accessed 2/1/2021.
Washburn Leader. “Potatoes.” Washburn ND. 3/5/1904. Page 1.