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Idaho potato crop on track following early cool weather

Fields look good as of early July as plants closed in over rows.

By Brad Carlson

Capital Press

Published on July 9, 2018 8:20AM

A potato field near Rexburg, Idaho. Growers say the crop is on track and look forward to warm weather in the weeks ahead.

Idaho Potato Commission

A potato field near Rexburg, Idaho. Growers say the crop is on track and look forward to warm weather in the weeks ahead.

Frequent cool, wet conditions in the northeastern stretch of Idaho potato country finally gave way to some welcome heat as July commenced, pleasing Weston Crapo.

“They are growing like crazy. We finally got some weather,” said Crapo, sales specialist with potato grower-shipper Sun-Glo of Idaho in Sugar City, north of Rexburg. “Things are growing really well.”

Idaho potato fields looked good as of early July as plants closed in over rows, signaling the tubers are preparing to grow strongly amid the hot-day, cool-night march toward harvest. Producers in the country’s top potato-production state remain optimistic barring unforeseen weather, pest or disease events.

“I would say we are pretty much back on schedule historically,” Crapo said. “We may have been a little behind early on, but things are catching up and looking good.”

Nature will largely determine harvest outcome, “but there are no diseases or anything we are worrying about at this point,” he said. “And we really anticipate a good, consistently warm summer through the rest of the growing season.”

Idaho Potato Commission Industry Relations Director Travis Blacker said spring was wet in some areas — putting seed-potato growers on the state’s eastern edge a bit behind, for example — but that the Idaho potato crop looks good overall. He expects potato quality to be high.

No disease or pest concerns had emerged as of July 6, but plenty of growing season is left, he said. Growers will spend the key next six to eight weeks closely watching their irrigation levels — water is plentiful this year in Palisades Reservoir on the upper Snake River — and the temperatures. If rain showers come, potato producers will stay on the lookout for the spread of any diseases.

“Blight is always a concern if we get a lot of rain in the summertime, so that is something we look out for,” Blacker said. “But for the last couple weeks it has been pretty dry, and the next 10 days are expected to be dry.”

The Pacific Northwest Pest Alert Network on July 6 issued its sixth 2018 alert about finding psyllids in southwest and south central Idaho potato fields. At that time, just one specimen had been found carrying the bacterium that causes zebra chip. Recently the network has said the psyllid population has been low, but tends to increase in July and August.

Blacker said the small, cicada-like psyllids visit Idaho about every year and are monitored roughly weekly. They can spread disease, so researchers trap and study them to see what they are carrying and if it is spreading. Growers can treat for them.

The health and condition of Idaho potato fields is favorable, he said. “In looking at different fields across the state, they are looking pretty good,” he said.

“What our growers are telling us is that our crop looks good and is on schedule,” said Jim McBride of Mart Produce, a potato grower and shipper based in Rupert, in south central Idaho. “Some are saying we are a little ahead of schedule.”

McBride on July 6 liked the two weeks of 90-plus-degree temperatures he saw in a weather forecast.

“The canopy is up on the spud plants, so warm temperatures should not be a problem,” he said.

On southern Idaho’s west edge, third-party testing at Doug Gross Farms near Wilder has shown excellent field and crop quality throughout the season, he said. Harvest could begin around the end of the first week of August.

At Sun-Glo, at higher elevation and mostly cooler climate to the east, Crapo said harvest could start around Aug. 20.

Fresh-potato prices at the end of June improved in the past year, from about $6.30 per hundredweight in 2017 to $7.15 this year, Blacker said.

McBride said prices for 5- and 10-pound bags of potatoes still aren’t great, but prices for the larger cartons that foodservice and restaurant customers buy have improved recently.

“Plantings didn’t seem to be up too much, so overall we’re kind of optimistic and hope to have a good potato year,” he said.


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