Fickle Weather Douses Idaho Farmers' Hopes

By Tom Bacon

August was a crummy month for central and eastern Idaho wheat and barley farmers - and for beer drinkers. The problem was rain - too much of it at just the wrong time - harvest time. The Twin Falls agricultural region in southeastern Idaho got about two-and-a-half inches of rain in the first week of August, an amount that would be unremarkable in some parts of the country, but which was astonishing in an area which ordinarily gets 10 or 11 inches a year.

Steve Hines, a University of Idaho extension specialist there, called it the storm of the century. As he put it - to get 40 percent of your rainfall yearly average in two or three days is astounding. For beer drinkers, the problem was that most of the barley crop in the region suddenly started to sprout after the heavy rain. That meant elevators would not accept the grain as malt barley, so farmers had to sell it as animal feed. As much as 85 percent of the barley crop is usually grown for malt.

The heavy and poorly timed August rainstorms in eastern Idaho and the Magic Valley also prompted Idaho's entire congressional delegation to prod the U-S Agriculture Secretary for quick action on disaster declarations.

Senior Idaho Senator Mike Crapo also cited significant damage to grain crops further north in the Weippe Prairie region - damage caused by hailstorms from the same weather systems. The Idaho lawmakers said that three counties have already submitted requests for disaster declarations, and that more local governments may join the list.
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