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http://www.heraldandnews.com/articles/2005/10/06/news/agriculture/ag1.txt

Rain extending potato harvest

H&N photo by Gary Thain Potatoes are harvested along Highway 39 near Merrill Wednesday. Rainy weather has pushed back potato harvests for some Basin growers

October 6, 2005 By HOLLY OWENS

The potato season is ending somewhat the way it began - with rain. Rainy and snowy weather this spring, 2.46 inches of precipitation by May 31 compared to an average of 0.95 inches, delayed planting for most fields by several weeks.

And now, slightly better than average precipitation is extending the harvest. Some growers have been able to harvest in the last two to three weeks while others are waiting on late-growing varieties such as russet Burbank.

"We've had quite a bit more rain on the south end of the valley," said John Cross, general manager of the Newell Potato Cooperative, and a Tulelake area potato grower. Cross planted 260 acres of russet Burbanks this year.

"We dug one load Sunday," Cross said, but with almost a full load, they had to stop because of rainy weather.

With more rain earlier in the week and clearer weather since, Cross hoped to be harvesting by mid-week.

"I would say the harvest would be at full bore by Friday," Cross said.

Cross is seeing the same circumstances for other russet variety growers in the cooperative.

"Most of the guys were planning on starting a week later than they normally do because of the late planting," Cross said.

So far crop results are a mixed bag for Cross.

"The early planting of russet Burbanks of mine I'm afraid aren't going to be very large," Cross said, but notes that the yield is good.

Tulelake area grower Kevin Baley, who planted 32 acres of russet Burbanks to sell through the Newell Potato Cooperative, and 170 acres of Frito Lay variety for potato chips on contract for Frito Lay in Modesto, Calif., wasn't able to plant until June 3, almost a full month later than he'd planned.

Baley, too has been slowed down by the rain this week, but says the conditions are improving.

"It's starting to dry up now," Baley said.

And he's seeing good results on his crop so far.

"They're in great shape," Baley said. "Size is a little bit smaller than last year."

Merrill-area grower Dan Chin with Wong Potatoes says the harvest conditions are about typical.

"It's not too bad," Chin said. "A little bit of a struggle with the weather. Makes it kind of tough to harvest, but we're working on getting the crops out. We're probably close to halfway."

Chin planted 780 acres of a variety of potatoes this year, including russet Burbanks, Yukon golds, reds, purples, Sierra golds and the small potato variety, Klamath Pearl.

"We actually had a late start with our plantings," Chin said. "With all the spring rains we were about two weeks late in planting, but we had a really good summer to grow the crops. We think we made up a little bit of that lateness with a good growing summer and a fairly good fall. The frosts in the fall didn't come until later."

Yield and quality have varied from one planting to the next, Chin said, but overall are at about average.

"I'd say we're kind of on the average as far as yield," Chin said. "Quality varies field to field. Some fields we're seeing good quality and some fields we're seeing a few disease problems but not too bad."

According to a July report from the Oregon Agricultural Statistics Service, an estimated 35,000 acres of potatoes will be harvested this year, five percent fewer than last year. Throughout the Pacific Northwest, in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, potato acreage is expected to be 6 percent lower than in 2004.

This is good news for growers when it comes to prices.

"So far they've been good, real good," Chin said. "We're probably about maybe a third to a half as much per sack than we did last year. Which last year we were in the hole, so this year it's profitable."

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