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FARM SCENE: Soggy fields slow potato harvest

October 10, 1997

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) _ Eastern Idaho potato farmers say wet fields and cold temperatures are a sign the clock is ticking and they must get the crop into the cellars.

``There’s always worries about frost at this time of year,″ said Bert Moulton of the Potato Growers of Idaho in Blackfoot.

Digging has been going on since late September. For a while, the weather was perfect: Cool nights brought soil temperatures down to the magic figure of 45 degrees. Days were sunny and temperate.

But precipitation this week _ snow in some places _ has dampened that optimism.

``This wet weather we’ve been having is certainly going to restrict the number of hours we can dig,″ Moulton said.

Potatoes are susceptible to bruising if they are dug up at a temperature colder than 45 degrees. The soil temperature Wednesday morning at Idaho Falls was 40 degrees. Readings at Rexburg, Parker and Blackfoot were all in the mid-40s, the University of Idaho Extension Service reported.

``The worst possible situation would be really cold weather,″ Moulton said.

Farmers remember 1985 when the mercury dropped to 18 degrees and took its time rising again. Frozen potatoes rot in storage, and spread their rot to the healthy potatoes in the cellar.

The harvest in the Upper Snake River Valley is close to an end. Growers will then watch to see whether late blight got into their crop.

The fungus that kills potato plants and causes tuber meltdown in storage was a concern this summer because of wet, cooler conditions.

Some experts have estimated that it may cut production this fall by as much as 10 percent or more.

But the stored potatoes must go through their ``sweat″ before farmers know whether all the fungicides and vine-killing precautions have kept the blight out.

It is not as important for farmers and shippers to sell their potatoes as quickly as they can. Prices have failed to get above $5 per 100-pound sack. There is room for improvement, Moulton said.

``We should have a real good price for this crop if we can get our heads screwed on right,″ he said.

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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) _ Pecan farmers in Mississippi are expecting a reduced harvest because of bad weather and disease.

``We haven’t had a great year in a long time,″ said Clayton Rouse, Lamar County extension service agent. ``The supplies are probably going to run short, and the price is going to be better than average this year. The price will be above $1 a pound.″

``It’s pretty poor right around here,″ said Buck Landrum, a Lumberton pecan dealer. ``We got a pretty fair seedling crop but not much on the pecans.″

Dry weather is preventing the nuts from filling out, meaning 1997 pecans will not be top quality.

``If we could get some rain, it would look better,″ said Stanley Kemp, owner of Bass Pecan in Lumberton.

Kemp predicts his company will ship about 50,000 pounds of Mississippi pecans grown in his orchards or by other area growers, and prices are expected to be steady. ``Catalog prices will go up some but that’s because of the UPS strike,″ he said.

High humidity and heavy rains led to scab disease that cut the harvest.

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