Crops could thrive if warm weather arrives as forecasted
By DAVE WILKINS
Idaho farmers wanted a cool, wet spring -- and they got it. Now many may be thinking of that old admonition "be careful what you wish for."
The abundant rain has provided much-needed moisture for dryland crops and helped conserve water on irrigated farms. But the cold weather has also slowed crop development and even damaged crops.
"We cuss this weather because we don't see the crop progress that we'd like, but every day like this saves us a lot in irrigation costs," Dwight Little said via cell phone from his farm near Rexburg. "So I guess we better not cuss it too loudly."
Alfalfa fields that would normally be about a foot tall were only 3 to 4 inches tall on June 3, Little said.
"Our hay is quite a ways behind what it should be," he said. "We'll have to take what there is with the first cutting and then try to make up for it on the back end."
Little, chairman of the Idaho Barley Commission, said he has some poor looking grain stands. Even his pasture grass is shorter than normal.
"I think this is the shortest grass I've seen," he said. "It's not a lack of moisture; it's a lack of heat units."
Little still expects to have a decent year. Crops can recover quickly once warm weather arrives, which has been forecasted to happen soon.
"We're OK," he said. "If the weather straightens out, and we get some warm days, it will be amazing how fast the crops progress."
May was one of the coolest on record for the Boise area, according to the National Weather Service.
The average temperature for the month was 53.6 degrees -- 5 degrees below normal.
Thousands of acres of sugar beets were damaged May 7-8 in south-central and Eastern Idaho when overnight temperatures dipped into the low 20s.
Growers planted 115,312 acres of sugar beets in the Mini-Cassia area this year, and about 39,000 acres of them had to be replanted because of frost damage, Amalgamated Sugar Co. officials said.
The 34 percent replanting rate was much higher than normal, said Stacey Camp, agriculture manager for the district. On average, about 13 percent of the crop is replanted every year.
Prolonged cool weather has continued to hold beets back.
"Our stands are weaker than average right now," Camp said in an interview.
While the cool, wet weather has delayed development of many crops, it's been great to dryland grain farmers.
"Our cereal grains are probably doing the best of any crop," Stan Gortsema, University of Idaho Extension educator in Power County, said in an interview.
Winter wheat fields in dryland areas such as the Arbon Valley and Rockland are doing just fine, he said.
"It's a good-looking crop," Gortsema said. "They almost look like irrigated wheat fields."
Eastern Idaho received more moisture in April and May than it did all winter, he said.
"We're still smiling about the moisture, but we would sure like to see some good weather in between (storms)," he said. "We need to get some heat units going to these crops."