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Agriculture: No Small Potatoes
Monday 15th of August 2011 07:44 AM

By Kim L. Fritzemeier

KFRM Central Kansas Report

Farm Wife along the Stafford/Reno County Line

During harvest, it's not unusual to see a wheat truck parked at the local AmPride convenience store while the hot, wheat-dust-covered truck driver runs in for a cold pop.

But there's a different kind of harvest in Cascade, Idaho, where the wheat truck is replaced with the semi hauling timber. (I loved the juxtaposition of the Boise National Forest sign and the harvested timber as the driver left his rig to run into a convenience store.) Some 1.7 billion board feet of timber is harvested in Idaho each year.

But as we worked our way toward Yellowstone, we did see a much more familiar sight - wheat fields.
We harvested our Kansas hard red winter wheat crop in June. This field was west of Idaho Falls.

It was so thick that it was beginning to fall over, certainly not a problem we had this year. Idaho farmers planted 790,000 acres of winter wheat in 2011.

Randy was impressed with the large, full wheat heads. The riper wheat heads were closer to the road. We figured that it didn't get as much moisture from the irrigation system, so they had ripened more quickly.

When I "Googled" Idaho agriculture, I found a blog from an Idaho farm wife. They started harvest in Genesee in northwest Idaho on August 9, almost two months to the day from our June 10 start date this year. (I just read their Genessee farm yielded 109 bushels to the acre and another location was 96 bushels/acre. I must admit I'm struggling a wee bit with envy at the moment, since our average yield for this year was 36.7 bushels/acre.)

Just across the road from the wheat field I photographed, was a huge field of potatoes. So while one crop looked like home, another was a novelty for a Kansas farm couple. The white potato blossoms looked pretty against the fluffy white clouds.

Every spring Idaho farmers plant more than 300,000 acres of potatoes. Idaho farmers produce potatoes for several different markets, ranging from seed to fresh to processing. About 60 percent of Idaho's potato crop is processed into french fries, tater tots and other fried products, or dehydrated into flakes and various other forms.

The crop is grown almost entirely in the southern portion of the state in the Snake River Plain, and that's the area we were driving through on our way to Yellowstone. Idaho produces about 30 percent of the russet type potatoes grown in the U.S. Potatoes are the leading crop commodity in Idaho.

On our travels through Idaho, we also saw cattle grazing. I didn't get a photo of the cattle, but we were also interested in the fencing. We saw some wooden fence that looked like a Lincoln Log building project.

In other fields, we saw fence posts spaced much more closely together than we use in our Kansas pastures. The difference? They need sturdy fences to hold up under the blankets of snow they get each winter.

In the Cascade area, many of the pastures were irrigated. The cattle were grazing in the fields, but it's only a summertime home. Just like the geese, the cattle have to move south for the winter. Of course, the ranchers will have to help in the bovine migration. But there's too much snow for ranchers to feed bales or silage and keep them in the mountain's valleys during the winter.

This was a hayfield in Wyoming outside a restaurant window as we ate breakfast on our way home. The green field filled with bales was a lot different from this summer's drought-stricken alfalfa fields of Kansas.

I'm guessing that not every traveler stopped along a country road for pictures of wheat and potatoes. Their loss. There's beauty and bounty everywhere ... if you just take time to look.


   Respond to this Entry
Response 1
Monday 15th of August 2011 03:15:02 PM
Submitted by: Gary
Ahhh, Kim, you're making me get a bit nostalgic. Oh, not for Idaho, but for Wisconsin, my home state. Traveling around the Badger state, you'll see logging trucks mainly in the northern wooded areas, and vegetable fields covering the middle part of the state. When I go back I'm amazed at how much logging still takes place as well as the many thousands of acres of vegetables. The central sands area of the middle of the state is the main region for potatoes, sweet corn, peas, snap beans, and cucumbers. The rich, black, organic soils primarily grow onions, carrots, lettuce, celery, as well as mint (spearmint and peppermint). Regarding Idaho, I have a friend who runs around 6,000 ewes in the eastern part of the state. You mentioned moving cattle, but my friend moves all of his ewes as well. He trucks them all to California for the winter for grazing on the alfalfa fields and lambing. In the spring, they are brought back to the high desert pasture, but for the summer, they are all trucked up into the high country where he has BLM use permits. Three times a year, his flock takes a long ride. Finally, regarding Kansas.....don't cut our state short. We also grow potatoes. Generally from Garden City south to the Oklahoma border there are several thousand acres of potatoes grown every year. It sounds like you had a wonderful trip.
Response 2
Tuesday 16th of August 2011 07:56:34 AM
Submitted by: Kim
Take me home, country roads! I'm glad I could revive some fond memories for you of life in Wisconsin. It sounds like another great place for a beautiful road trip! We didn't see any sheep in the area we traveled through, probably because they were spending the summer in the high country. I guess I should have said that potatoes aren't part of the crop rotation at the County Line. I would never sell Kansas short: I feel blessed to live in the Wheat State. But it's great to see different parts of the country and discover what makes us America the Beautiful. Thanks for taking time to comment. I truly appreciate it!

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