Potato harvest

The potato harvest continues in the Pleasant Valley area northwest of American Falls in Power County on Tuesday.

UPPER VALLEY – Despite concerns over rain and cold weather slowing down the potato harvest, production is on schedule.

John Hogge, area cereals educator for the University of Idaho Extension, said that farmers are resilient and know when they can work to produce a healthy spud harvest.

“I don’t think there’s any cause to be concerned or worried," Hogge said. "Every year we experience challenges, and we overcome them. Agriculture continues to be the leader and economic driver in Southeast Idaho, and it’s because we’re really good at what we do."

He did note that recent rains have impacted farmers ability to harvest

“I think the rain has slowed them down," Hogge said. "They don’t want the potatoes to get wet or bruised. They have to be a little bit careful. If they have days like today – it’s supposed to blow pretty hard today and dry things out and make it easier to keep going, as long as we don’t get more moisture."

The National Weather Service reported that Rexburg farmers could expect clear weather through Wednesday. It stated there is a 70 percent chance of precipitation, and that includes a possible half-inch of snow on Wednesday. Less than an inch of snow was expected for Sugar City as well on Wednesday. In St. Anthony, rain and some snow is expected on Wednesday. Ashton may also expect rain plus some snow showers resulting in a half an inch of snow on Wednesday.

Farmers have told Hogge that they’re working 12 hours a day and believed they could finish within that time.

“Most of these farmers are so resilient," Hogge said. "They’ll figure out a way to get it done. It’s their cash crop. They don’t have a choice. They have to get it out of the ground."

Hogge reported that the Upper Valley has experienced similar weather in the past, but farmers have succeeded in harvesting their crops before.

“We always get it out of the ground," he said. "There have been very very few years that we’ve had great loss. It rained a couple of days, and the ground could be a little bit wet. It can be favorable if it's wet. That keeps the dirt off the potato and keeps those clogs off. It’s the rain we don’t want getting on the potatoes. We don’t want potatoes to be wet when we’re digging them out of the ground.”

Hogge says that Upper Valley farmers know what to watch for and how to handle harvesting.

“They’re monitoring the weather and the soil and making those really difficult decisions (on) when to harvest," he said. "They know they won’t get any money unless they do it correctly."

Fremont County University of Idaho Extension Agent Lance Ellis says that a combination of late planting season combined with cooler weather and frost slowed down the harvest.

“Most are right in the middle of harvest, and we have some really cold weather coming," Hogge said. "The problem that (this)creates is that, even though the potatoes are down in the soil, those cold temperatures are dropping down into the teens. That can actually freeze the potato down into the soil, and they won’t be any good to dig."

Because of the impending cold weather, farm crews are working extra hard to harvest potatoes.

“There are crews digging potatoes now as rapidly and as fast as they can to get them dug and pulled out of the ground before that big bunch of weather hits tomorrow," Ellis said. "Temperatures are supposed to drop."

If it gets too cold at night, farm workers can’t continue harvesting.

“They can’t work 24-7 because, if it gets too cold at night time to dig, then they have to shut down," Ellis said. "Some will run until 11 at night."

Ellis has met with Fremont County farmers and has noted some stress in the air.

“Farmers don’t panic too much," Ellis said. "They are working very, very hard to try and get as much done as they possibly can. That’s all you can do. Panicking is not going to solve anything. A lot of them are hoping they can either get them dug (or) that this winter storm will come through (and won't) damage the potatoes too badly. It would be best if they all could get the potatoes dug and in the cellars."

Hogge said that should some potatoes be lost this harvest season, the markets will remain stable.

“It would take a natural disaster to cause an economic depression for any crop,” Hogge said. “We’ve had good yields on the crops this year.”

He noted that prices remain the same, and that they always go up whenever there’s an expected shortage. He says there’s no way that farmers might only harvest half their crops.

“That’s not happening unless it starts raining, and it doesn’t stop from here on out,” Hogge said.

For now, Hogge urged everyone to be positive.

“I don’t think we’re in a situation where there should be any fear,” Hogge said.

The Standard Journal will update the potato harvest story throughout the week.