Idaho farmers dive into spring work

Starting up water systems can make them grouchy. But they are encouraged by this season's rains.


Irrigation waters are rushing through canals. Pivots and wheel lines are spraying their payloads across green alfalfa and wheat fields. ATVs can be seen darting from field to field. Dust billows out behind tractors busy planting seed for the year.

The farm season has come to Idaho.

For some, recent warm weather signals a time to get outside and enjoy the sun, take a hike in the mountains or go fishing. For farmers, the spring sunshine means a switch from the winter lull to an "all-hands-on-deck" lifestyle.

The winter months can be relaxing for farmers. Feeding cattle and laying straw down in the corral constitute a farmer's workload, but it's nothing compared to the frantic rush that irrigation season brings with it.

"You always kind of dread that first time," said Dean Edgar, who farms in south Burley. "The anxiety of getting things to work smoothly that first time is there. It can take its toll on guys."

The "first time" he's referring to is the struggle of sending water down through a mainline or down a ditch. They've sat unused all winter and now it's time to get to work.

"It never goes as smooth as you want," Edgar said. "The water has to flush out weeds and rust in the pipes - it's never going to be a simple process."

Though it's good to get back to work, delays in water delivery, broken pipes and clogged culverts can start to pile up.

"What we do is we get all of our guys together, and we work on a few (water) systems together," said Tim Darrington, a farmer in Declo, east of Burley in Cassia County. "That way, it's all hands on deck, and it's more manageable than starting every system all at once."

Darrington said that it's easier to handle problems as they arise when everybody is there to help. When a workforce is spread thin and trying to tackle multiple problems, tempers start to flare.

Modern irrigation systems can make a farmer feel like all he has to do is start up the pump and things will be good to go, he said.

"You feel like you're ready to rock 'n' roll," he said. "You can feel as prepared as you can up until you turn it on. Then you realize that things are never that simple."

Edgar said it doesn't matter if it's a used water system or a brand new wheel line.

"There's always a problem," he said. "I've seen new lines that we just put together start jumping and breaking when the water is put in. It's like someone took a saw to it at the wheel."

Across the Snake River in Rupert, Councilman Joel Heward recalled problems with water from his youth.

"We had some new lines out and my brother Blair and I were getting it up and running," Heward said. "Blair was turning it on, and instead of opening the valve, he was unscrewing the head. Pretty soon there was water everywhere, and Blair was caught in the middle."

On the other hand, farmers say that weather and planting conditions have been fantastic this season. Corn and beets are in the ground and farmers say that things have been smooth so far.

"The storms have been coming and it's blessed everybody," Edgar said. "It's turned into a decent water season."

Darrington agrees.

"We planted beets in dry ground, and then you wait," he said. "It makes you nervous. But then the rain started coming and it didn't stop. It was a blessing."

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