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Summer Heat Means Farmers Are Seeing Shrunken Spuds And Onions In Idaho

A field of potatoes growing, with the mountains in the background. The short green plants stretch across a valley.
J. Stephen Conn
Flickr/Creative Commons

Harvest season is underway across the northwest, and farmers in some areas are seeing smaller spuds and onions because of excessive heat earlier this summer.

Ben Josephson of Idaho Falls-based Wada Farms said it's too early to know for sure how everything will turn out this harvest, but so far, some of the Idaho Russets coming out of the ground near Mountain Home and Bruneau are smaller than usual.

“Grade twos instead of grade ones,” he said.

Grade ones are the large brown baking potatoes sold fresh in grocery stores. Grade twos might have a few more defects and aren’t worth as much.

“It is discounted some from a number one,” said Josephson, who directs sales at Wada. “A lot of people use them for fresh-cut hash browns or mashed potatoes.”

June’s excessive heat stressed out the plants, and many released their young tubers. That "survival mode" restarts the growing process, resulting in smaller spuds now, Josephson said.

Onions are showing up smaller than usual so far, too. Strong spring winds blew seed off some fields, delaying the start of the season. When the heat arrived, the onions didn’t have as much of a leafy green top to help protect and grow the bulb below.

Tiffany Cruikshank is Assistant General Manager with Snake River Produce in Nyssa. She said this area is known for its large onions.

“The colossals and super-colossals we sell out of this growing region; I think there are going to be fewer than normal,” she said.

Cruickshank said most folks won’t notice a difference in the onions they see at the grocery store. While sizes might be a little down this year, she expects quality will be the same.

Josephson remains optimistic. Test digs on many of Wada’s 50,000 acres of potato fields north and east of the Twin Falls area show they may have avoided the worst of the heat, but he won’t know until they get dug up in the weeks to come.

This conversation could really change in about three weeks. It was really hot in western Idaho and we’re seeing reduced yields — but until we get the equipment over here where it has been cooler, that could change.”

He said an early frost this fall could potentially be more damaging than the summer heat.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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