First cutting of hay

With ripening fruit trees further up south slope in the background, the year’s first cutting of hay cures in the field to be ready for storage.

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May and June often see the banks of the Payette River straining to keep within its channel and not flood low lying lands. This year it appears that the annual flood watch can ease off a bit. While hot days may be accelerating the melt of high elevation snow packs, the storage capacity on the Payette River system at Cascade and Deadwood Reservoirs appears to be able to accept that flow without having to release additional waters downstream.

As a result, flooding both above and below Black Canyon Reservoir is going to be minimal this year.

“Any changes we see in our river flows right now are pretty much the result of rainfall between us and the Cascade or Deadwood,” Neil Shippy with the Emmett Irrigation District said. “We might not reach full 100 percent capacity in both of the reservoirs but we will be very close and we don’t expect to see much dumping down river. Both dams are issuing minimum release levels currently.”

That doesn’t mean the river is currently at a low level, and not down to the level often considered ideal for floating the Payette from Plaza Bridge to the Gem Island Sports Complex. That usually occurs about July 4 each year.

The lower water flow also is not indicative of a potential water shortage for all irrigators later this summer. While the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Idaho released a mixed review for the State in its final water supply outlook report issued last week, the Payette River drainage appears in better shape that others.

“Without additional early summer precipitation, unregulated rivers will be at minimum or near record low flow levels by mid-to-late summer,” said Erin Whorton, Hydrologist-Water Supply Specialist for NRCS Snow Survey in Idaho. ”We anticipate the combination of dry weather conditions, and the early and strong onset of irrigation demand, will cause reservoirs to reach minimal levels and have minimal carryover into water year 2022.”

Shippy said that while supply concerns for this season are minimal, strong attention is going to be paid to make sure that no water is wasted.

“It’s illegal to just dump your water allotment down the system,” Shippy said. “Water is and continues to be a critical resource for our State and our County and we must be good stewards of what we have. Water users should take only the water they need and help us keep any excess amounts upstream in the system. If next winter is as mild and dry as this winter was any carry over we can provide in our storage systems will be critical.”

Agriculture outlook

While the supply of water for this season appears to be stable, not all growers have experienced a perfect spring with prospects for bumper crops.

It appears there will be a local supply of cherries — at least some varietals — for next week’s Cherry Festival. The heat in recent weeks has helped some varieties to pick up their maturation rates after a rather cool, dry spring.

Several orchards are already offering u-pick cherries of their early varieties. While each variety has a short window of ripeness, the cherry picking season could last several weeks due to the large number of varieties being grown, the age of some of the orchards, and the many individual micro-climates that exist in Gem County.

While cherry crops appear to be normal in their sets for this year, other fruit crops have had wildly different experiences.

Lance Phillips with Gem Orchards reports that the frosts received in late April wiped out his peach crop on one parcel of property.

“It just hit and settled in on the orchard lying below here at the very wrong time for the blossoms,” Phillips said. “There’s not a peach on them. Yet not more than 800 feet away, up the slope a bit, we are having to thin those peaches for the second time to relieve the weight on the trees and hopefully produce larger fruit.”

The Pacific Northwest Pest Alert Network is reminding all fruit growers, particularly amateur growers, that aggressive thinning can sometimes be required.

“Fruits which are crowded should be thinned,” advises the Alert Network. “Apples, pears, Asian pears, apricots, plums and peaches all respond positively to thinning. Cherries and nut trees are usually not thinned.”

First cuttings of hay have been made and barring any major storm fronts with significant rain, those should be cured, baled and stored shortly. Grain crops have fully headed out and are quickly moving toward maturity and corn crops have benefited from the recent hot days to get a jump on their growth.

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