Cold rain delays planting of sugar beets, potatoes
By SEAN ELLIS
Unseasonably wet and cold weather that persisted into late April has caused Idaho farmers to delay their planting and fieldwork.
Though it's too early to panic, the situation is starting to weigh on growers' minds.
"We haven't even started planting spuds yet; we'll try today," American Falls potato grower Jim Tiede said April 27 during what turned out to be a short respite from the rain. "We're at least two weeks behind schedule."
Meridian farmer Drew Eggers said it has been too wet to get fertilizer on his mint crop, which has put him two weeks behind schedule, and his sugar beet crop was planted two weeks later than normal.
"We're way behind," he said. "The fields have just been too soft."
From Coeur d'Alene to Boise and from Twin Falls to Preston, precipitation levels are well above normal.
From March 1 to May 1, 7.36 inches of precipitation was recorded in Coeur d'Alene, 3.3 inches more than normal. Boise received almost 2 inches more than normal during that time, Twin Falls 1.54 inches more and Preston 2.35 inches more.
In some areas, the weather has been wetter. For example, 5.72 inches of precipitation was recorded in Lava Hot Springs in southeast Idaho, 3.5 inches more than normal.
"Growers are working hard to get their crops in between storms and freezes," said Mark Duffin, executive director of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association. "It's just a matter of fields being dry enough to get their planting done."
Adding to the challenge, temperatures have also been well below average. The mercury dipped to 28.5 degrees in Meridian April 27, four days after Egger's sugar beet crop was in the ground, causing him some worry until he confirmed that "they seemed to survive."
In Coeur d'Alene and Nampa in the north and southwest parts of the state, the average temperature for the week ending May 1 was 8 degrees and 10 degrees cooler than normal. In was 9 degrees cooler than average in Malta in southcentral Idaho, and 10 degrees colder in Lava Hot Springs.
"The cold weather has probably been as much of a delay as the moisture has been," Tiede said. "My sugar beets have been in the ground three weeks and they haven't sprouted yet. With the cold weather we've been having, maybe it's a good thing they haven't."
According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Idaho, an average of four days were suitable for field work in Idaho the week of May 1. Only half the days during the week of April 24 were suitable for fieldwork and during the previous two weeks, the number of days suitable for work were three and two.
Only 19 percent of the state's potato crop had been planted by May 1, compared with the normal 29 percent. And 63 percent of Idaho's sugar beet crop was planted, well below the 92 percent average that is typical for this time of year.
Fifty-one percent of the state's spring wheat crop had been planted, compared with the typical 65 percent.
The weather situation is causing some farmers to worry that there will be enough warm days this year to allow their crops to reach their proper size.
"Potatoes are fairly resilient and can catch up if we have warm weather from June through August," Tiede said. "But if we don't have a nice, warm summer, we could end up with smaller-sized potatoes and reduced yields."
There's a lot of time left, Tiede added, and nobody's panicking yet. "But one part of the equation for a great potato crop is an early start to planting and that's been thrown out."
Last year's growing season in Idaho also got off to a slow, wet start, said Vince Matthews, director of NASS' Idaho field office. It did just fine, he said, so there's no reason to get overly worried now.
"If it keeps on like this for another two or three weeks, then it will start to get more worrisome," he said.