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Sunday morning downpour downs Valley hop yards

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The harvest-ready hops in a number of Lower Valley hop yards, like this one on Chase Road near Grandview, crashed to the ground early this past Sunday morning under the weight of more than an inch of rain. Valley hop ranchers believe strong winds could cause additional trouble in the rain-soaked fields.

Lower Valley hop growers woke up early this past Sunday morning to hear the snapping of hop poles just after dawn. The sudden weight created by an unseasonable rain storm on the vine-ripened Yakima Valley hops created enough strain to down seven hop yards, ranging in size from seven to 37-acre yards.

Even though the rain hit Sunday morning, most growers weren't able to begin cleaning up the tangle of hop vines until Tuesday morning.

Traditionally, the Yakima Valley hop harvest begins near Aug. 20 and continues through the end of September. The rain damage resulted in a number of growers scrambling to locate heavy equipment and crews to begin the rescue efforts in the damaged yards.

"We lost a 17-acre yard due to Sunday's rains," said Willard Mears, general manager of the John Segall Ranch in Grandview.

Mears said his crews are currently working to brace anchors in other yards to prevent further damage from the water-logged fields.

"We got more than an inch of rain in 20 minutes, which put a huge strain the hop yard braces," he said.

Mears said muddy conditions in the fields is now making it difficult for the hop harvest crews to get equipment into the fields.

"I don't know if we'll be able to get in there to harvest the downed field," he said.

Mears said one of the fields owned by S.S. Steiner Inc., located on Chase Road, received so much damage from Sunday's rains that the hop poles, which measure from six- to eight-inches in diameter, snapped in two under the combined weight of the hops and rain.

In addition, there were a number of yards that suffered rain damage in the Upper Valley and in the Prosser area.

Among the Sunnyside-Grandview area farmers to lose a yard to the rains was Puterbaugh Ranches of Green Valley Road.

"Knock on wood, we only lost one seven-acre yard to the rain," said Diana Puterbaugh. She said it took a little while to round up heavy equipment to get into the farm's Belma Road field of hops.

"Fortunately, the harvest crews are beginning to show up for work, so we had men on hand to help with the clean-up," she said.

Puterbaugh said the Belma Road yard was one of the Puterbaugh's early hop varieties.

She said she's heard of a farmer in the Harrah area who lost a 37-acre yard of one of the later variety of hops.

Puterbaugh said four yards had also been damaged by the rains in Oregon.

As clean-up of the yards begins, farmers are hoping that winds don't come along to further complicate the situation.

"We just hope we don't get any winds to further shake loose the hop poles," Puterbaugh said.

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