By SEAN ELLIS
A string of nice weather has put crop plantings in Idaho ahead of normal and far ahead of the 2011 season, which featured an unusually cold and wet spring that pushed planting back several weeks.
"I'd say we're a couple of weeks ahead of normal," said potato grower Dan Moss, who noted he was about two weeks behind normal last year at this point. "Compared to last year, it's a month difference."
While precipitation levels have been close to normal in much of Idaho, temperatures have been much warmer than last spring, which has put planting progress all around the state except for north Idaho way ahead of 2011's pace.
USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service reports 42 percent of the state's potato crop was planted as of April 22, well ahead of last year's 7 percent mark on that date as well as the five-year average of 12 percent.
"It's certainly an earlier start than normal," said Ritchey Toevs, who grows potatoes in east Idaho, where the bulk of the state's spud crop is produced. "I think most everybody's planting potatoes right now."
Sugar beet plantings were 91 percent complete statewide, compared to 39 percent in 2011.
Rupert sugar beet farmer Duane Grant said the only acres that remain to be planted are straggler fields.
"For all intents and purposes, we're in," he said. "It's been a good spring."
Spring wheat plantings are 70 percent complete statewide, well ahead of the 45 percent total in 2011 as well as the average mark of 49 percent for April 22. Barley plantings were 62 percent complete, also well ahead of the 2011 and average marks of 43 percent and 44 percent.
"We have a pretty good spring going," said Ririe grain farmer Gordon Gallup. "We're 30 days ahead of last year right now."
Statewide, 8 percent of Idaho's field corn crop was planted as of April 22. That total compares with 1 percent last year but is slightly behind the five-year average of 10 percent.
Farmers in north Idaho, however, have had to deal with a lot more spring precipitation than normal and are still playing catch-up.
But the weather broke over the weekend and a lot of planting has been done in the past few days, said Bill Flory, who grows wheat and other crops in north Idaho.
"Everybody's running everywhere in north Idaho (since the weekend)," he said. "We're starting to catch up now, finally."
Temperatures all around the state have been above normal the past few weeks, which means irrigation pumps are being fired up earlier than normal.
Last year's very wet spring meant sugar beet growers didn't have to irrigate the crop through emergence, Grant said.
"This year, it's all irrigation bringing the crop up," he said. "It's going to make the emergence portion a little more expensive for farmers."