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Two hailstorms in a week damage thousands of acres of Idaho potatoes

by Rand Green | July 02, 2009
Even as California growers continue to suffer from the effects of a third year of drought, the state of Idaho is experiencing the opposite problem: too much precipitation, and some of it in the form of balls of ice.

Severe thunderstorms in late June brought heavy rainfall and caused flash flooding in some areas. But for potato farmers in southeastern Idaho, the greater problem was hail that has damaged thousands of acres of crops.

"We've had two significant storms," Jerry Wright, chief executive officer and president of United Potato Growers of Idaho, said in a June 30 interview with The Produce News. The first storm occurred on Father's Day, June 21, and the second just five days later.

"The Father's Day storm started at about Raft River," southwest of American Falls, "and came through American Falls, cut through the back side of Pocatello and onto the [Fort Hall Indian] Reservation and came out the north end of the reservation," he said. It caused "significant damage."

There were over 25,000 acres of potatoes planted in the affected zone, Mr. Wright said. "Probably around 10,000 acres were seriously affected" by the hail, "meaning they had 50 percent or more defoliation. Probably another 6,000 were 15-45 percent affected," and the remainder was "relatively unscathed."

Damage from the second storm June 26 was still being assessed, he said. While it caused "not nearly the extent of damage that we experienced in the first storm," there was still some damage. "We are hearing" of potato fields in the Osgood, Hamer and Riorie areas [north of Idaho Falls] that were affected "and some here in Idaho Falls."

It appears that most of the damage has been to fields of Norkotah Burbanks, which are more susceptible to damage at this stage than Russet Burbanks. "There is no question because they are Norkotahs, they could be more seriously damaged," Mr. Wright said. "It looks like a lot of them will grow out. They will just have substantially reduced yields, and we don't have any way of assessing that right now."

Because so much of the damage occurred to the Norkotah crop, "there is the potential for some timing issues here," he said. "Most of the potatoes that were seriously damaged were potatoes that were scheduled to be run out of the field in September, and a lot of those won't make it now. So it could affect the market at that point." Later markets should not be affected, he added. "The bulk of the damage then will just be to individual growers," with market volumes for most of the season after September not significantly affected.