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Hail hammers Idaho’s Rexburg Bench

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

Hail damage has set crops back on the Rexburg Bench of Eastern Idaho.

REXBURG, Idaho — Farmers on Eastern Idaho’s Rexburg Bench anticipate diminished potato quality and dramatically reduced yields in both spuds and grain due to a July 15 hail storm that pummeled a broad swath of their growing area.

Farmers on the bench were already concerned about heat stress prior to the storm, which blew in at about 4:30 p.m. and caused heavy hail damage throughout a 4-mile stretch of Poleline Road, spanning about a mile wide.

About a dozen farmers on the bench, known for its fresh Russet Burbanks, sustained heavy damage, affecting nearly a third of their crops. Many growers had dropped hail insurance due to rising premiums.

“There could be 3,000 acres of spuds that got hammered,” said Joel Ashton, who estimates half of his wheat and a third of his spuds were severely damaged. “We cover the majority of our crop. There’s a lot of people I talked to that don’t.”

Ashton expects his spuds will be smaller, rougher, low-yielding and poor quality as vegetation regrows when tubers should be bulking.

Rhett Summers estimates he’ll lose a quarter of his grain and spud yields.

“There’s a lot of petioles and main stems that are snapped right off,” Summers said.

Lynn Wilcox carried no crop insurance on 400 acres of potatoes and about 320 acres of wheat that were affected. He fears some of his neighobors’ hard-hit wheat fields will see 90 percent yield reductions.

Growers David Wood and Randy Huskinson consider themselves fortunate that their fields were on the outer edge of the storm. Wood’s potatoes sustained minimal damage but his grain yields may be reduced by up to 20 percent, though it’s hard to know for certain at this stage.

“I almost bought crop insurance two days before the hail storm,” Wood said.

Huskinson, who also isn’t insured for hail, said his crops sustained major damage, but minimal compared with his neighbors’ fields. Huskison said the storm brought up to 1.6 inches of moisture to the bench, including 0.6 inches in less than 10 minutes.

Arden Anderson, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation hail and multiple peril crop insurance specialist, said he’s had a couple of claims east and west of Rexburg from the hail storm, along with claims from Monteview during the prior week and Teton Valley in early July.

Growers on the bench have historically waited to sell their fresh potatoes until late in the season, just before harvest of the next crop, hoping for short inventories and higher prices. This season, however, prices plummeted in June and still haven’t rebounded above the cost of production.

Summers had his entire crop in storage when prices dropped, which he attributes to a large inventory and an early harvest in many potato regions this season. Wilcox still had 300,000 hundredweight of potatoes to sell when the market dropped. The return to growers remains in the upper $3 to lower $4 range, he said.

“I’ve never seen a market crash that far, that fast,” Wilcox said.



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