Weather plays havoc with eastern Idaho crops

Bill Bradshaw /
Andy Ritzman explains how grain knocked down by a combination of heavy rains and wind is barely salvageable. He was waiting for the rest of the crew to join him Monday, Aug. 18, to harvest Steve Longhurst's wheat in this field south of Idaho Falls along 121st South.

Rainfall in the past month is from 100 to 200 percent above normal for this time of year in eastern Idaho, according to the National Weather Service.

“We started out with the very nice, normal summer as far as temperatures,” said Vernon Preston, meteorologist at the Pocatello airport. “We can expect some nice, cooler temperatures for the rest of the summer and fall, but the chances of getting into the 100-degree areas is slim to none. The hot summer is over.”

The Idaho Falls area averages about half an inch of rain this time of year, he said. The recent rain dropped 1.43 inches.

But moisture levels may be headed in the other direction.

“It looks like we are going into what is called an ‘El Nino’ for later this fall and winter,” Preston said. “The impact is usually above-normal temperatures with lower snowpack. This area has had 17 El Ninos in the past 35 years. Snowpack was well below normal for 12 of those years with five years being right at normal.”

Wayne Jones, University of Idaho Extension educator at Idaho Falls, said the rain has been disastrous for most crops in his area.

“The second-crop hay, for those that had it cut but not up, has serious problems with mold,” he said. “The grain has started to sprout in the heads before it could be harvested. That’s really a serious issue for the barley growers. Anheuser-Busch has a strict limit on how much sprout is allowed for their product, so that will limit what they will accept from around here. I don’t know how that will impact beer drinkers.”

Potato crops also are at risk.

“Late blight is a real concern and it loves this wet weather,” Jones said. “If the farmers haven’t already sprayed for late blight, they better be doing it pretty quick. My hat is off to all the producers for what they go through and risk every year to produce crops here. Our weather is so unpredictable. It’s tough to be a plant in Idaho”