Weather forces sugar beet replanting
Idaho farmers got early start, but winds, frost damage seeds
By JOHN O'CONNELL
Strong winds in Idaho claimed about 200 acres of Dirk Driscoll's first sugar beet planting in the Pleasant Valley area between Aberdeen and American Falls. Some seeds were whisked away, while others were covered too deep by chalky dust to emerge.
Frost dealt the blow to some of Driscoll's neighbors, as well as his brother, Thane, who had to replant 15-20 percent of his own sugar beets in Pleasant Valley.
Idaho farmers got an early start to planting this season thanks to record high April temperatures. A few recent unseasonably cold nights and gusty days have forced many of them, however, to break out their planters again.
In Jerome, despite receiving some early spring moisture, Driscoll's brother, Brock, had 10 acres of sugar beets blow away. Driscoll believes the combination of frost heave and sparse winter moisture mellowed the ground this spring.
"We've had this much wind before but not this much soil moving, and that's because of the type of winter we've had," Driscoll said, adding there's still ample time to grow a good crop.
Some neighbors watered their fields prior to seeding to hold the soil down. Driscoll considered doing the same on the two fields that "took off" on him, but was so close to completing his planting he opted against it.
"If we encounter this kind of winter again, we'll do more groundwork when it's wetter," Driscoll said.
Oakley grower Randy Hardy noticed while driving from his home town to Burley that about half of the sugar beet acres he passed had been replanted, mostly due to wind damage. A friend of Hardy's had to start over on 1,000 acres of sugar beets.
On his own farm, Hardy worries his winter malt barley may have been damaged by temperatures that dipped below 25 degrees on May 5.
"I think there will be some damage. It could be all of it or it could be some of it," Hardy said. "This spring it's been about as opposite as it could be from last spring. Last spring we were cold and wet, and this spring we're dry and windy, and both of them have been a pain."
National Weather Service Meteorologist Gary Wicklund said spring and fall are typically gusty in Eastern Idaho, and statistically, this spring has been no windier than usual. He suspects the challenges are more tied to soil conditions and early plantings.
As of May 6, the USDA reported Idaho farmers had planted 99 percent of sugar beets, 4 percent more than average; 89 percent of barley, 23 percent above average; 90 percent of spring wheat, 16 percent above average; and 82 percent of potatoes 38 percent above average.
Kelly Olson, Idaho Barley Commission administrator, hasn't heard of widespread weather problems for barley.
"I don't think we're alarmed by anything yet," Olson said.
Mark Duffin, executive director of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association, knows of sugar beet growers who have replanted due to wind damage, frost and hail.
"It's been clear across the state, probably more in Magic Valley," Duffin said. "It depends on where you're at, what the soils are like and what phase the crops are at. If they're coming up on real windy days, it's been spotty."