Early rainfall leads to potato production problems

SKAGIT COUNTY, Wash. -- Potatoes are Skagit County's most valuable crop, bringing tens of millions of dollars to growers each year. Last fall, however, farmers suffered big losses due to early rain that saturated the soil, forcing farmers to leave acres unharvested.

Normally during the fall season, September is the driest, averaging 1.5" of rain and November is the wettest, averaging 6.5" of rain. Last fall, it was the other way around with September being unusually wet and November being unusually dry.

Wylie Thulen with Pioneer Potatoes says they couldn't harvest 80-100 acres of his 700-acre farm.

"It's tough when you leave acres more than you want and also not have control over it," said Thulen.

According to WSU's Skagit County Extension, an estimated 2,000 acres of potatoes went unharvested this season in Skagit County, resulting in farmers' losses between $5-10 million.

"It was tough because usually you get a really nice September and we get a lot out and you go into November, and you're feeling pretty good," said Thulen.

But last September was unusually wet, and October also saw above-normal rainfall. November was bone dry.

"November was a real blessing. If November had been as wet as September, it would have been a bad deal," said Thulen.

Thulen says bad growing seasons could impact seed prices down the road, but he is thankful that the market for potatoes was good this time around.

"Talking to most farmers, most everybody is feeling pretty blessed and lucky with what we got out. We look back and think it could have been worse for most of us. We get to go again next year. It's like being a Coug fan, there's always next year," said Thulen.

Farmers are hoping for good growing seasons because the US and China reached an agreement allowing immediate access to China for US potatoes.

Washington, Idaho, and Oregon can now start exporting potatoes to China. Washington is second in the nation in potato production behind Idaho.