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Ag hurdles

Jan 3, 2018 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Part 1 of 3

The 2017 growing season in Fremont County was marked from the start by complications due to cool, wet weather and flooding in the spring.

The impacts weren't generally devastating, but they posed a management challenge for farmers, said Jeremiah Vardiman, the northwest area educator for the University of Wyoming Extension.

"2017 was not a smooth year operation-wise, management-wise and crop-wise," he said this week. "It wasn't the easiest or smoothest of years to maintain and manage."

Spring rains and localized flooding made it difficult for farmers to plant their fields all at once, Vardiman explained. As a result, the rest of the year was "very go-stop."

"You might see part of the field planted, or one field planted but not the other, things like that," he said. "It just kind of staggers out the work and makes for a very jerky type season going forward. ... It just makes it very difficult to juggle."

The situation varies based on the size of the operation and the location of the farm, he noted. For example, farmers in the Riverton Valley Irrigation District were without water for several weeks when spring floods washed out their canal. Vardiman hadn't heard of any major devastation for individual families as a result, but he said being without water must have put those farmers behind on their irrigation schedules.

"I feel for those guys," said Bob Pingetzer, who farms about 1,300 acres in Missouri Valley.

Pingetzer is a member of the Midvale Irrigation District, but he said he knew of many RVID farmers who had just finished planting most of their crops in the small windows between spring storms when the canal closed due to flooding.

"It got hot and dry, (and) they couldn't get water on things when they needed it," he said. "I don't know that they necessarily lost any (crops) but it definitely affected some yields."

Meanwhile, farmers like Jock Campbell near Shoshoni weren't delayed at all by the flooding in the spring. In fact, Campbell said the moisture made for a better year on his property, which sits on sandy soil that usually stays relatively dry.

This year, he said, his farm got "plenty of water" from the Midvale system.

"We could irrigate all our ground all we wanted," he said. "We didn't have to conserve anywhere."

The plentiful supply was necessary, Pingetzer said, because of the hot, dry conditions that followed in the summer.

"There was lots of snow on that mountain, and we had plenty irrigating water," he said, adding, "Riverton Valley had plenty of irrigating water after they got the canal fixed, too."

Heavy hay

Pingetzer grows alfalfa, alfalfa grass, mixed hay, corn and oats on the farm his grandfather homesteaded.

Vardiman said the cool spring of 2017 was beneficial for hay yields, which came up thick due to the weather conditions.

"Of course it makes it really challenging when it's so thick of a hay stand to get it knocked down, dried and baled in a timely manner," he said.

Pingetzer said his Krone 4x4 baler didn't have a problem.

"The Krone baler loves heavy hay," he said. "It likes big windrows."

His first cutting wasn't much bigger than usual, though, since he harvested it in mid to early June, a few weeks earlier than he typically does.

By contrast, Campbell, who grows alfalfa hay and corn, got his hay planted late because he had traveled to Tennessee with his son, who was competing in the National Junior High Finals Rodeo. Despite the delay, he said he produced a "really good" first cutting.

Vardiman guessed that, although the hay yield was plentiful for the first cutting, the quality likely was lower.

"That's nothing out of the norm for the type of spring we had," he noted.

By the time of Pingetzer's second cutting of hay in the first part of August, he said he was back on his regular schedule, with yields "probably a little better than normal."

Cattle feed

For both Campbell and Pingetzer, the third cutting of hay doesn't usually get baled. Instead, the crop stays on the ground for their cows to eat.

It's still necessary to cut the hay though, Pingetzer explained.

"If the alfalfa gets very big, it freeze down or dries down, so the leaves will fall off on the ground, and the cows won't be able to pick them up," he said. "If you put it in windrows it's more concentrated."

Third cuttings often involve dodging isolated showers, Vardiman said. But again, it all depends on the size, location and schedule at each individual farm.

"If you had hay on the ground and it went to rain and cool, that'll lie on the ground and affect the quality and yield of that hay," he said. "If the hay was standing or baled, we won't see the impact as much."

Planting window

The long planting window in the spring affected other crops, too, Vardiman said. In particular, he said barley and oats typically get planted over the course of three or four weeks. But this year, it took farmers twice as long to put barley in the ground.

"That's just not what we generally want to see," he said. "Those bigger windows on barley probably pushed the barley harvest back a bit."

He added that the delay did not impact yields.

"It wasn't anything significant where they could've lost entire crops (or) had any yield reduction," Vardiman said.

The same was true for oats on Pingetzer's farm. He said he was late planting the crop, which meant his harvest was late in the fall.

"But it yielded well," Pingetzer said.

His corn harvest was late as well, because of rains in the fall.

"It was too wet to chop," Pingetzer said.

The longer farmers have to wait to collect their corn, he continued, the more they are in danger of getting hit by frost.

"That can be bad," Pingetzer said. "Then the moisture starts to go out of it, and it starts to dry up."

Luckily, the first freeze of 2017 came late, giving farmers plenty of time to chop corn once the weather cleared.

"We were in no hurry to get it done," Campbell said. "I chopped my corn later than I had ever."

Conditions were still wet when he finally got into the field, though.

"We got stuck several times," Campbell said.

Fall prep

The late freeze also gave farmers an opportunity to prepare their fields for next spring.

"It looked like winter might slam down on us, then in November it just opened back up - we warmed back up into December," Vardiman said. "People took advantage of (that). I saw tractors turning in November and December getting fields prepped. ... Hopefully that'll lend to a more productive, smoother year for growing crops."

In 2016, he recalled, the fall season was shortened due to weather, so farmers already were behind when spring 2017 started. Then, the cool, wet weather set them back even further.

If those conditions repeat themselves next spring, Vardiman said area farmers will be better able to make up for lost time.

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