BLACKFOOT, Idaho—Potato crops throughout eastern Idaho were heavily damaged by cold temperatures early June 7.
Aberdeen grower Ritchey Toev estimates 100,000 acres in the region covering Bingham County, the Fort Hall Indian Reservation and north to Bonneville County were potentially affected. Toevs said about 300 acres of his own crop sustained vegetation damage.
"North of Aberdeen, every field is at least burnt. Some are burnt clear back," Toevs said. "They will re-grow with less bulk to them. The cold kind of roughens up the crop, too."
Driving past fields of potato plants with wilted, black foliage, Blackfoot area grower David Cooper explained his spuds likely survived the brief spell of frigid weather, but he guesses it set the crop back about three weeks. He also anticipates his yields will be down 75 to 100 cwt per acre, and potato quality will be impaired.
"We had over 3,000 acres that got burnt down pretty good," Cooper said. "Everywhere I drove I saw the same thing. I saw 80 to 90 percent of the fields had quite a bit of damage."
The temperature gauges in his fields showed the low that morning dipped to about 27 degrees for roughly three hours.
"It's probably the worst frost damage we've ever had on our farm. It was so warm things were taking off and we were thinking we were going to have a bumper crop. I think this is going to set them back to below normal," said Cooper, who also has fields near Shelley. "I don't have a field that was untouched, and I farm in a big area. It's the most widespread frost I can remember. It's going to be a big deal, but what do you do?"
Cooper said his corn acres appear to have sustained some light damage, and it's too early to tell if the cold affected his grain.
According to National Weather Service meteorologist Gary Wicklund, the morning of June 7 tied a record low in Idaho Falls at 31 degrees and broke a cold record in Stanley, Idaho, at 19 degrees.
The damage appears to be minimal west of American Falls, and potatoes showed the only visible signs, said Reed Findlay, a University of Idaho Extension educator working in Power County.
"I've been through Power County and over through Cassia County. On spuds, it looked like a few edges of the fields got hit, mostly in low-lying areas," Findlay said. "That is indicative of a light frost.
"There were some fields that had changed color and leaf rolling and had definitely gotten hit with some lower temperatures. I don't think there was as much frost as you head toward Magic Valley."
Findlay said the June 7 cold spell and some previous cold nights likely hurt winter wheat fields, which have experienced head emergence earlier than normal.
"We've had a little bit of (wheat damage) but no disaster or anything," Findlay said.
SOURCE: John O'Connell, Capital Press