Idaho rains doing farmers more harm than good

Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Late-season rainstorms in southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon have made harvest a challenge for many farmers. And they came too late in the year to help most crops during a low water year.

NAMPA, Idaho — Late-season rainstorms have been a mixed blessing for farmers in southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon.

Precipitation levels in the Treasure Valley were well below normal this year and a short water supply made farming a challenge for many producers, especially those with high-water crops such as onions and mint.

A string of September thunderstorms in the area came too late in the season to help most crops meet their water needs but they have made harvest a challenge, many farmers said.

For the area’s onion crop, “It probably did more harm than good,” said Oregon producer Paul Skeen, president of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association.

The big bulb onions grown in eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho need to be cured in the field before being sent to storage.

A series of thunderstorms has made that a challenge, said Fruitland, Idaho, farmer Ron Mio, director of the Idaho Onion Growers Association.

“We haven’t had good curing conditions,” he said. “We’d like to see a little drier weather and some warmer temperatures.”

Caldwell, Idaho, farmer Sid Freeman said the rains delayed his onion harvest about a week.

The rains ended a season-long drought that exacerbated an already short water supply caused by meager snowpack.

But the timing — during and right before the harvest of many crops in the region — was less than ideal, said Freeman, who was harvesting an onion field near Middleton Sept. 23, one day before another series of rainstorms was forecast to hit the area.

“If we’d just get no rain for a while, we’d be doing well,” Freeman said. “We all know Mother Nature will heal herself. You just hope the timing is right for you.”

The rains have pushed back the tail end of onion harvest, which puts the crop at risk of an early frost, Freeman said.

The rains resumed Sept. 24 and the forecast was for more storms through Sept. 26.

For the region’s dry bean farmers, the rains have done a lot more harm than good, said Don Tolmie, production manager for Treasure Valley Seed Co. in Homedale, Idaho.

“They haven’t helped us at all,” he said. “They delayed … harvest for about 10 days and caused some quality concerns.”

Mio also grows seed beans and he says that with the recent rains, “it’s a struggle to get them to dry.”

The rains have helped sugar beet growers, however.

Sugar beets are a high-water crop and most irrigation districts in the area shut down water flows in early September. Sugar beets in the region are harvested in October.

“The sugar beet guys were out of water, so that rain we had was a life-saving deal for them,” said Alan Newbill, president of the Pioneer Irrigation District’s board of directors.


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