Monday, August 15, 2011

Agriculture: It's No Small Potatoes

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.


  1. Hello from North Georgia! I'm originally from Southern Illinois and I have to say that reading your blog has helped transport me back to farming country. I could almost smell grain dust and oil and chip roads more than once in the course of my reading. Thanks, and keep on writing!

  2. Thank you so much for visiting the County Line and taking time to comment. I very much appreciate your kind words, too!

  3. I came across your blog looking for a WATCH OUT FOR FALLING ROCKS sign.
    Very informative and the pictures are superb.
    My trucker brother sends me pics from the road but he doesn't get out of the truck.
    Thanks for taking the time !

  4. Marcel - It's good to have you "along for the ride." My husband is a very patient guy: He has to be for all the photo stops! I'd love to have you stop by the County Line again anytime.

  5. Thanks Kim,
    I just saw your latest and you've given me my little vacation.
    It's like I was there ...almost.
    You sure are using your gift well.
    God sure did make it all so beautiful and so good.
    I'm going to send your blog link to my brother and hope some of it (the gift) rubs off on him.

  6. Thanks Marcel! I am blessed to live in a beautiful place in Kansas and visit parts of America the Beautiful along life's journey. As a trucker, I'm sure your brother gets to see and experience that, too. Thanks again for stopping by!