Idaho potato growers brace for poor crop amid drought, heat

August 25, 2021 GMT

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — The hot, dry and smoky growing season has left some Idaho potato farmers bracing for a poor crop.

Randy Hardy of Oakley told the Idaho State Journal that his harvest will likely be the worst of his career. Statewide, spud farmers conducting test digs or early harvest are uprooting plants supporting no tubers. Where there are potatoes, there are fewer than normal, and most of the tubers are undersized and misshapen.

“I’ve never had this happen before, and I’ve got an agronomist who works with me on potatoes and he’s been doing it for over 20 years and he said he’s never seen a worse crop than this,” said Hardy, who raises spuds for the fresh market and serves as chairman of the board of Sun Valley Potatoes.

Hardy isn’t scheduled to harvest until Sept. 20, and he’s hoping the extra time will allow his tubers to add a bit more bulk.

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United Potato Growers of Idaho asked growers to submit results from Aug. 1 test digs and will gather follow-up data in person during harvest. Hardy said the average number of tubers in the test digs was down 30% from last year. Weight was also down substantially, he said.

Many fields lacked deep soil moisture when the potatoes were planted. Then the state was hit with record-high heat in June, contributing to fewer potatoes growing beneath each plant. Hardy believes the smoke-filled air from Western wildfires also harmed plants by impeding the stage of growth when each potato adds bulk. Farmers are left with fewer and smaller potatoes, he said.

Jim Tiede of American Falls, will start early digs on Sept. 12. Like many farmers, he is locked into set prices because he’s under contract to sell to a potato processer.

Tiede said farmers who have been digging in his area have reported yields of 20% below normal, oddly shaped spuds and problems with specific gravity — a measurement of the amount of solid matter in each tuber.

“It’s going to be a short crop,” Tiede said. “Fryers have been very active out looking to purchase more.”

Tiede said Lamb Weston, McCain Foods and Cavendish Farms have offered growers an extra $1.50 per hundredweight for additional spuds.

“We’re going to wait a little bit,” Tiede said. “I get the feeling most guys are doing that.”