Although potato farmers in the Columbia Basin could call on all the water they needed during this year’s drought, the heat still posed risks and it has certainly left its mark on this year’s potato crop.
Adam Weber of Weber Farms, near Quincy: “Yield is down, and quality is also down. It’s 10% down, though it varies with varieties. I would say they kind of shut down during the heat cycle and they weren’t growing as much.
Mark Pavek, a professor of potato research with Washington State University Extension, reports that potatoes grow best when the temperatures are around 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit, and when temperatures rise above 95 degrees for too long, potato plants struggle to keep producing tubers when it’s too hot.
Pavek said in the kind of temperatures the Columbia Basin experienced this summer — as high as 115 degrees in and around Moses Lake — the potatoes at greatest risk of being damaged are those closest to the surface. The June and July heat also prompted some potatoes closer to the surface to sprout, which forces the tuber to break down some of the starches it creates and stores as it tries to grow another plant.