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A hard year for farmers

Between the drought and the extreme heat this summer, the crop outlook isn’t great for Idaho. Now on the last downhill toward the end of harvest, it’s time to take a look at what this year’s been like for Idaho crops.

Larry McMillan drives a combine as he harvests barley Friday, Aug. 24, 2007, near Moscow. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

“It’s pretty bad,” said Randy Welk, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistician for Idaho.

A drought of good news

This year’s drought and the extreme heat this summer have impacted several of Idaho’s crops, including those very famous potatoes. Idaho’s other number one crop, barley, did not fare well either. The drought started this spring, which is a terrible time since there was a failure of springtime precipitation to augment the already mediocre snowpack.

According to government records, 1924 was the last time the Pacific Northwest had this dry a spring. This was the second driest March–June for Washington, Oregon and Idaho on record (record keeping began in 1895). Temperatures, especially on the western side of the state, did break records in the Panhandle, Treasure Valley and Lewiston.

Crop reports for the year to date are based on USDA reports released on Oct. 12 for corn, hay, dry beans, sugar beets and grain.

Corn in a field. File photo

A-maizing corn

“It’s not record production,” said Welk, “but it’s record corn yield this year.”

Corn production is expected to be 22.5 million bushels, which is down 13% from 2020. Acres harvested were 105,000, down 25,000 from last year. On the flipside, yield was 214 bushels per acre, which is up 15 bushels compared to 2020.

Bean counting

Harvested area for dry edible beans was down 83% this year compared to 2020. The upside is that yield was up 15.5% from last year, for a total production of 1.6 million cwt, which is slightly up from 2020.

Sugar can’t be beet

The sugar beet harvest is not yet complete, but Idaho’s crop is forecast at 6.99 million cwt, which is up slightly from last year. The harvest acres were 170,000, up 1,000 acres from 2020. Yield is expected to be 41.1 tons per acre, up 0.6 tons from 2020.

Hay got pitched

Farmer Monte McMillan drives a combine as he harvests wheat near a grove of trees Aug. 18, 2020, near Moscow. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Based on conditions noted on Oct. 1, the USDA forecasts alfalfa in Idaho to be 4.14 million tons down 9% from last year, while harvested acreage did not change. Yield was 4.1 tons per acre, compared to 4.5 tons per acre in 2020.

Other hay varieties were down a whopping 34% from last year, forecast to be 476,000 tons. Harvest area was 280,000, down from 290,000 in 2020.

Going against the grain

The doom and gloom for this year’s harvest is for the small grains. Regarding wheat, Idaho Wheat Commission executive director Casey Chumrau told the Idaho Business Review: “It was a very disappointing harvest this year, although we were expecting it given the extreme drought and the extreme heat all across the state.”

Winter wheat production in Idaho was 45.4 million bushels, down 32% from last year, with yield estimated at 71 bushels per acre, down 30 bushels per acre from 2020. Spring wheat production in Idaho was 30.6 million bushels, down 32%, with yield estimated at 63 bushels per acre, down 28 bushels per acre from 2020.

Idaho’s other number one crop, barley, saw production at 43.6 million bushels, down 21% from last year, with yield estimated at 89 bushels per acre, down 21 bushels per acre from 2020.

Oat production was the biggest Idaho loss, with a production at 936,000 bushels, down 43% from last year, with yield estimated at 72 bushels per acre, down 30 bushels per acre from 2020.

photo of potatoes

FILE – In this Sept. 19, 2018 photo, potatoes run down a conveyor belt at Brett Jensen Farms outside of Idaho Falls. John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, File

Taters tottering

The potato harvest isn’t over yet, but indications are not great for this year’s crop. “The heat this summer hurt them,” remarked Welk about this year’s spuds.

Because of the spring drought, many areas lacked deep soil moisture when seed potatoes went in. Then the record-high heat came in June and July, with warm nights when potatoes really want to keep their cool with after dark temperatures of 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit. As of Oct. 3, 52% of the potato harvest was complete.

The quality for this year’s crop is definitely down. Last year at this time (Sept. 27), the potato crop condition report listed 5% of the crop as fair, 62% of the crop as good and 33% of the crop as excellent. This year’s condition and progress report (Oct. 3) listed 1% of the crop as very poor, 9% as poor, 32% as fair, 50% as good and 8% as excellent. From a review of past USDA Idaho crop condition reports, it is rare for more than a third of the Idaho potato crop to be reported as fair or worse.

About Catie Clark

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