There was sadness and dismay in eastern Idaho’s potato community this weekend as the 2019 harvest wound down and growers began tallying up their losses from October’s disastrous freeze while pondering what to do with the tons of unusable tubers it left behind.
This season’s harvest will be marked by tons of decaying potatoes for which there is no home.
Some growers were luckier than others, particularly those with smaller acreages. They got their potatoes out of the ground and into storage before the freezing cold spell hit.
Pingree grower Garth Van Orden, sounding weary from days and nights of working to beat the incoming cold front forecast for this weekend, said the frost was spotty, affecting some sections of fields while passing over others, but caused great damage to those it hit. He estimated that he lost 40,000 sacks from a single farm — about 10 percent of the crop at that location.
The potato processors helped the growers as much as they could by taking the least damaged tubers , VanOrden said, but they aren’t prepared to handle the sheer volume that growers needed to dispose of at one time.
It was a hardship all around, he said, because the growers had to wash off the mud that resulted when the tubers thawed and began to weep after they came out of the ground, then sort them, discarding those with the worst damage before sending them to the processor, and the processors had to sort and wash them again to determine what percentage they could use and still maintain their standards.