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Southwest Idaho growers salvaging crops hit by hail

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

Golf ball-sized hail has caused heavy damage to several fields in southwest Idaho. Some sugar beet growers are taking advantage of an Amalgamated Sugar Co. program intended to help those who sustain hail damage.

NAMPA, Idaho — Some of Steve Martineau’s bean acreage had already been cut and laid in even windrows, awaiting harvest, when golf ball-sized hail arrived on Sept. 5.

Two hours after the hail pounded his beans into the ground, another front brought an inch and a half of rain, covering his garden pole and lima beans in mud.

Martineau, who farms 7 miles south of Nampa, is among several southwestern Idaho growers now attempting to salvage as much of their crops as possible following the devastating hail storm, which swept through an area 3 miles wide and 25 miles long.

“Mud just saturated into the pods and started sprouting beans. It’s pretty phenomenal,” Martineau said Sept. 18 as he sought to harvest beans, some of which had already given rise to 6-inch plants.

He estimates 75 acres of bean fields sustained 40-100 percent losses, though he sought to dig and recover some of his beans using a grater blade. Though his beans were insured, he had no coverage on 7 acres of carrots that sustained an 80 percent yield hit, a field of flattened silage corn and 100 acres of foliage-stripped sugar beets.

“We’ve got some grain corn that it stripped every single leaf off. All that’s left is the stalk, and the husk peeled a third to half the way down the ear,” Martineau said. “A couple fields of silage corn, it took the corn down flat.”

Mike Moyle, who farms in Star, Idaho, said his mint yields, which were averaging 100 pounds of oil per acre before the storm, were reduced to 20 pounds per acre. Moyle also sustained damage to more than 200 acres of corn.

He believes some of his neighbors had it worse, noting one grower’s tomatoes were riddled with holes and local alfalfa seed growers had crops that were flattened, leaving seed heads to sprout in fields.

Nampa grower Doug Blickenstaff also had heavy damage to bean fields.

“It looks like a lot of loss, more than half,” Blickenstaff estimated as he harvested what remained of his beans on Sept. 18.

Amalgamated Sugar Co. has a special policy allowing growers affected by hail damage to opt out of its program governing levels of nitrates, which make sugar extraction difficult. Company crop consultant George Schroeder said Amalgamated usually offers incentives to growers with nitrates below the average for their beet piling station and docks those who rise above the average. Schroeder said nitrates increase when plants lose foliage late in the season and have to grow leaves when cool weather should be spurring them to accumulate sugars.

Schroeder, who has about 1,300 hail-damaged acres in his service area alone, anticipates yields in affected fields will be down 2-3 tons per acre and sugars will also be down by at least a point. He said growers sacrifice $3.25 for every lost percentage point of sugar.

Martineau is among the growers taking advantage of the Amalgamated program, having opted out for about 70 of his hardest hit sugar beet acres.



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