Penfold Farms still cleaning up after the February thawDriggs—On clear, cloudless day in Driggs, Wyatt Penfold should be shipping seed potatoes, at Penfold farms outside of Driggs. But today he’s cleaning up a mess.
All week his crews have torn apart a crushed potato cellar at break-neck speed because next week they start planting seed potatoes. But they still have to salvage, sell and ship this part of last years crop.
The historic winter of ’17 continues to impact Idaho farmers. Across the state farmers are dealing with hundreds of collapsed barns, cellars and out buildings. The destruction dots the Idaho landscape and its hard to drive across Idaho without seeing storm damage thats now estimated at a quarter-of a billion dollars.
“We had heavy snow in February and we were going to start shoveling snow off the cellars on the Sunday of that storm, but then we had a sudden thaw. It was an average storm, just a bit warmer than normal. But there was two feet of snow already there. Then it rained, the snow held the moisture and it tripled the weight on that cellar and it collapsed,” said Penfold.
Penfold says between their farm and their neighbors, they lost a half-dozen buildings in the Valley. “I had a neighbor that had a shop go down and there were a few more buildings that went down in Victor,”
Penfold said what was remarkable about the storm is that it wasn’t remarkable, it was normal. “The only thing not normal was the rain, we don’t see rainstorms in winters up here because this is the high country. We never have warm days in February and that’s what really did us in,” said Penfold.
Penfold, his brothers and farmhands all swung in action and covered up the seed potatoes to protect them from the open roof. Only a section of the cellar was exposed to the weather, Penfold’s crew sealed up the hole until the crews could get to it, this week.
“It’s still too wet to be out in the fields and thats okay because we’re shipping. We got to get this building torn down before we start planting. We’re lucky, we got a week between shipping and planting. We’re taking all the tin off the cellar, opening it like a tin can. We’re cutting out the side and pulling the potatoes out. We don’t know yet how much seed we lost, but most of its fine.
Penfold says when the cellar collapsed and opened up that section near the front of the pile, the air temperature in the Driggs was 38-degrees. That’s the same temperature they keep their climate controlled cellar.
“We put 15 tons of straw over the front of the pile where the shed went down and then put tarps over it. We basically built an A-frame over it and it worked. We could have lost last years crop, it was a lot of work and worry but we’re still selling seed and everything is fine so far,” said Penfold.
The cellar is not insured. “You can’t get a policy protecting you from a sudden thaw and heavy snow,” said Penfold. “But if it was offered we’d buy it.” Penfold farms will have to absorb the loss and rebuild the cellar this summer.
Penfold farms averted disaster with quick thinking, tarps and straw. The farm has sold Russet Burbank seed for 65 years and Wyatt Penfold says it’ll take more than a freak February thaw to run them out of business.