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Harvest season nears completion

There’s been a chill in the air for the past week and that can only mean that autumn has taken control and it won’t be long before winter is here.

For the past month, potato harvest has taken over every waking moment of the day and into the night. Working deep into the night by the light of September’s harvest moon and October’s hunter’s moon.

It’s been that way for more than 100 years here in Idaho, even longer in eastern agricultural centers.

Traditions. That’s part of the farming life.

Here in Idaho one tradition that continues is the harvest break that schools take to help bring in the potato crop.

The tradition continues in a number of school districts in eastern Idaho, especially in Bingham County. The Snake River School District, Aberdeen School District, Firth School District and the Shelley School District all close for one or two weeks to help with the harvest.

Russell Hammond, superintendent of the Snake River School District said it’s a tradition that many students, teachers and staff participate in and he foresees the tradition continuing for years to come.

You can see video interviews and still photographs of students during harvest at


Harvest tradition continues in Idaho

Throughout the United States there’s a history or tradition to harvest seasons everywhere you travel. In southeast Idaho, there’s almost a century of tradition to the potato harvest and one of those traditions is the school harvest break for students to help bring in the crop.

With the consolidation of farms through the decades the demand for student help is not as great as it once was but there is a need for help on farms and many students still work during the harvest break.

Russell Hammond, superintendent of the Snake River School District, is a staunch defender of the two-week recess during harvest season. In fact, Hammond said it’s a bit of an emotional issue for him. He remembers working in the fields when he was a young boy, filling baskets with potatoes and then sacking them.

“It’s our harvest break and it’s been here since the beginning of our school district,” he said when asked to describe the upcoming two-week school recess for the 2010 harvest season.

Snake River School District in Moreland, Idaho, is a rural, farming community in Bingham County, one of the most productive potato growing regions in the country, if not the world. The school district began in the mid-1950s and the harvest break has been a constant.

Hammond acknowledged that not as many students are as involved in the harvest as in the past. He estimates that 25 to 30 percent of Snake River High School’s students work during the harvest break.

Two years ago, the school district surveyed area growers regarding the district’s harvest break. Hammond said the growers were quite vocal and said this is something really important to their operations.

At Richard Polatis Farms, Polatis' son, Layne, and his cousin, Randy, were overseeing the cleaning and storage of potatoes. Both men recalled their own experiences as high school students working the harvest break.

Layne said that it gave him a chance to get out and earn some money and it helped the family farm get the spuds out of the ground.

Randy recalled the days when Layne’s father, Richard, would run a sidedigger early in the morning and then he would hand pick the potatoes.

“We need quite a bit of help,” Randy said, "and it gives these kids a good opportunity to learn how to work and earn money.”

Both Layne and Randy said they know of a number of farms that rely on the harvest recess for help in bringing in their crops.


Market Report: 2010 production drops to lowest levels in 20 years

Bruce Huffaker’s North American Potato Market News forecasts a 40.6 million cwt. drop in fall potato production, 10.3 percent below the 2009 crop. This would be the smallest fall potato crop in 20 years.

Huffaker predicts a fall yield of 404 cwt. per acre, 25 cwt. below last year’s record.

The lower yields are due to frost in parts of Idaho and the Klamath Basin and heavy rains in the upper Midwest.

Huffaker reports that the expected yields from all three Pacific Northwest states will be down this year. Idaho could have its smallest potato crop since 1989. A frost the first week of September impacted the eastern Magic Valley area along with fields north of Idaho Falls.

Washington’s yield is estimated to be 595 cwt. this year, with overall production expected to decline 6.9 million cwt. from the 2009 crop. That production number would be the lowest in Washington since 1992.

Oregon’s production is estimated to be 19.6 million cwt., 8.7 percent below its 2009 crop.

Huffaker predicts that the total decline will result in problem in all sectors of the industry.


Product Highlight: Pest Pros

Pest Pros Inc., out of Plainfield, Wis., has been granted a trademark for its Storage Potato Disease Risk Indexing system called Storecast. In development since 2004 Storecast is as potato storage disease and inventory management tool. Based on molecular disease diagnostic techniques known as PCR (polymerase chain reaction), Storecast measures the storage disease risk for soft rot, leak and pink rot.

Late blight, dry rot, silver scurf, early blight and black dot also can be included in the pathogen screen. Two seasons of data from 2008 and 2009 on 64 fields comparing storage rot forecasts to the final storage rot outcome show a 76 percent accuracy rate for close or full agreement on processed potato varieties. Over the two seasons only a 3 percent rate of seeing substantially more rot than expected occurred, according to the company.

Randy Van Haren, president of Pest Pros, said the sample tests provide growers with added inventory management information, allowing the grower to move risky inventory out early or implement necessary storage practices to reduce storage loss.

Pest Pros Inc. currently is pursuing licensing agreements with others to provide the system in other areas.

Pest Pros Inc. has been in the potato crop consulting and plant disease diagnostic business since 1984. For more information visit