Weather Delaying NW Planting

Published online: Apr 05, 2019 Articles Dianna Troyer
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Source: Intermountain Farm & Ranch

Some eastern Idaho farmers foresee a slight delay in planting as they wait for snow to melt and their fields to dry. As Idaho farmers begin to decide when to plant, they can expect a warm wet spring.

“The chance for above normal precipitation is 33 to 40 percent,” said John Hinsberger, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Pocatello.

In the Pacific Northwest, the April, May and June precipitation outlook indicates enhanced odds of above-normal seasonal total precipitation, according to the Climate Prediction Center.

The temperature outlook for that time also favors above normal seasonal mean temperatures for the Pacific Northwest, according to the center.

“We’ll be fairly close to being on schedule for planting potatoes, about three to five days later than normal,” said Bart Wattenbarger, who farms with his brothers and father, Deverle, near Shelley.

“Instead of planting around the 15th to the 18th of April, we’ll probably be closer to the 20th,” Wattenbarger said. “Soil moisture and temperatures will control our decisions.”

They grow 1,500 acres of Russet Burbank potatoes for General Potato and Onion Distributors’ fresh pack market.

Idaho potato farmers might benefit from an anticipated decreased tonnage in Washington and Oregon, said Ross Johnson, director of international marketing for the Idaho Potato Commission in Boise.

Usually, Washington farmers plant in late February but many are still waiting for fields to dry out from an unusually harsh winter that blanketed the region with deep snow.

A significant portion of potatoes used in french fries, hash browns and other processed potato products are grown in Washington and Oregon.

“Being a month behind schedule is crazy,” Johnson said. “The delay in planting might result in not as much tonnage as usual coming out of Washington and Oregon. As a result, processors who will be looking for enough product might go to the state next door ? Idaho. Farmers here might plant more potatoes in anticipation of that shortfall.”

Wattenbarger said if potato tonnage declines elsewhere in the Northwest, it might drive prices up a little “and help everyone. If their yield is a little less, prices could go up. We’ve seen a low, flat market for the past three to four years. For some, it’s meant a disappearance in equity. We could all capitalize on better prices.”

Wattenbarger Farms also grows 1,800 acres of hard white spring wheat.

“We started planting wheat the last week of March,” he said. “Normally, we’d start a week later but we have some fields with sandy soil that dried out enough to start. We’ll market it wherever the best price is.”

Statewide, the number of acres of spring wheat planted has increased this year, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Spring wheat planted acres, excluding Durum, are expected to total 500,000 acres, an increase of 9 percent compared to 2018.

North of Soda Springs, “some of our fields are still under two to three feet of snow, but that’s normal,” said Scott Brown, the Idaho Barley Commission’s eastern Idaho grower commissioner.

He grows 7,500 acres of malt barley, 1,500 to 2,000 acres of winter wheat and 1,000 acres of mustard.

Statewide, 730,000 acres of winter wheat have been planted, up 1 percent from last year, according to NASS.

“Mother Nature decides when it’s time to plant,” Brown said. “We usually start in late April. If we have some delays and can’t start until early May, we’ll just forge ahead and have to work a little longer and harder to make up for that.”