It's the year of the worms, said entomologist Silvia Rondon during the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center's annual Potato Field Day.

Damage done by caterpillars and other "worms," she said, is affecting wheat, grass and other crops.

And the potato tuberworm, armyworm, cutworm and other insects that eat the potato plant, have become as unpredictable as the weather, said research technician Brad Hollis.

"This year has been crazy," he said. "We saw things in February that we don't usually see until July."

Spring's cold and wet weather, he said, should show a general decrease in hatchings, but a few days of warm weather could cause a sudden insect explosion.

Every week, Hollis and his crew inspect the 4,600 potato plants in their test plots for insect activity, and every week they find something new, he said.

Hollis and Rondon weren't the only scientists who were happy to talk about the joys and frustrations of potato growing during potato field day June 24, which drew about 50 area scientists, growers and consultants.

Agronomist Don Horneck presented the latest on fertilizer and potato production; agronomist and potato specialist Dan Hane discussed the development of potato varieties; plant pathologist Russ Ingham talked about nematodes; and Phil Hamm, the station's superintendent and plant pathologist, spoke about "determining symptoms of PVY strains, both below and above ground."

Peter Mercer, who grows 2,000 acres of potatoes near Alderdale, Wash., found the talks on fertilizer most useful.

The price of fertilizer, he said, has gone through the roof, so he is looking for ways to use it more efficiently, and also maintain a high yield on his crops.

Olericulturalist George Clough said the price of fertilizer is just one problem facing potato farmers.

All inputs have seen phenomenal increases, he said, and this year the yields will be down because of the weather, which has slowed the potatoes' growth.

"We're about 2-4 weeks behind," he said.

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