Officials in some Idaho counties are declaring a state of emergency after ill-timed hail storms and several days of rain-damaged crops.
Clearwater County commissioners in northern Idaho declared a state of emergency earlier this week after farmers on the Weippe Prairie lost nearly a third of their spring wheat and 76 percent of the hard red winter wheat to a hailstorm. Nearby Lewis County commissioners are still assessing the damage in their region.
In southern Idaho, Jerome County commissioners are also seeking emergency status after nine days of rain caused hay and wheat to mold and barley fields to sprout – limiting what the barley may be used for.
“It’ll drop prices significantly, because now barley will be used probably for feed, rather than going on to Coors,” Jerome County Commissioner Cathy Roemer said.
Between 50 and 70 percent of the wheat, barley and alfalfa crops in Jerome County may have been lost, according to estimates from the county’s Office of Emergency Management. Farmers in neighboring Twin Falls County are facing a similar situation, and county commissioners say they too will seek an emergency declaration soon.
If Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and federal Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack sign off on the emergency declarations, farmers who were affected by crop damage will be able to seek low-interest federal loans.
Rick Brune, who owns a farm near Hazelton in southern Idaho, watched his crops turn dark with mold from the rain.
“It looks good, but you pour it out and it’s a black cloud,” he said, grabbing a handful of wheat grains from the back of a truck.
The wheat would have been worth $5.50 a bushel if he could sell it for flour. Because of mold, it’s worth maybe $3.50 or $4 a bushel as feed.
Most of the barley grown in this area is sold under contract to beer companies such as Coors and Anheuser-Busch. Brewers can’t use barley with more than a minimal amount of sprouting because they have to sprout it at the plant as part of the malting process.
“That’s why they grow a lot of barley in Idaho,” Brune said. “They usually don’t have to worry about rain events.”
As for his hay, Brune said, he would have cut it 10 days ago but had to wait until the hay dries to bale it. Like everything else, the hay is going to sell for less, too.
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