By JOHN O'CONNELL
Talk of rivaling last year's Idaho record 35.5-tons-per-acre average sugar beet yield ended with mid-April killing frost, but the state's growers are pleased by the progress of their replants, facilitated by better May weather.
According to Amalgamated Sugar Co.'s recent estimates, a string of temperatures well below freezing forced growers in the Twin Falls, Glenns Ferry and Mountain Home districts to replant about half of their beet acres, and replants throughout the Mini-Cassia district exceeded 50 percent. The hardest hit area was Minidoka County, where growers replanted 96 percent of their sugar beet acres.
In western Idaho, where temperatures stayed higher, the percentage of replanted acres as in single digits.
Pingree, Idaho, grower John Malmstrom and his partners replanted 416 of 1,000 acres originally seeded at the start of April. Malmstrom just wrapped up his replanting on May 18. Though he held off on replanting to make certain it was necessary, his initial replants are now emerging.
"We finally got heat. That's the bottom line. We were so cold for so long, nothing wanted to grow," Malmstrom said.
Rupert farmer Duane Grant, chairman of the board at Snake River Sugar Co., said his replants have reached quarter-size and are entering the four-leaf stage.
"Even though we have the frost and the killing of the first planting took a record crop off of the table, the fact that replants went in relatively early, as replants go, and we've had good weather for emergence since then suggests we definitely have the ability to pull an average crop," Grant said. "Replants would be characterized as a very good stand everywhere."
Grant said the massive replanting also hurt yield potentials by creating shortages of preferred seed varieties. Unable to find preferred seed of the appropriate diameter for his planter, Grant was forced to replant with a variety that doesn't yield well in trials.
"That won't really show up until the end of the growing season," Grant said.
He considers it good news for sugar beet growers that root maggot populations appear to be down significantly, enabling him to spray this season as he notices a problem rather than preventatively.
Jeff Henry, of Jerome, noticed root maggot eggs on the bottoms of leaves and has retained his normal preventative program. Henry was able to find his preferred seed for replants. He said his surviving original plantings aren't far ahead of his replants, as April growth was stymied by cold.
"I think for the most part, even the replanted beets, they starting to grow a couple of 3 inches across, which is still behind where we want to be," Henry said.
Aberdeen grower Dirk Driscoll had to replant 85 percent of his crop. Thanks to timely rain and warmer May weather in southeast Idaho, many of his replants have six leaves. Three-quarters of the seed used for his replants was his seed of choice.
"When we replanted them we kept them wet and we had 75- to 85-degree days, and they popped out of the ground," Driscoll said.
Driscoll sees no reason to adjust his planting dates in the future.
"When have we ever seen temperatures in the teens or lower in April at four or five different times?" Driscoll asked. "The April of 2013 will not be forgotten in our valley."