farmers squeak through drought
For some, the
season was a disaster
Express Staff Writer
118-year history of their ranch in Picabo, the Kilpatricks/Purdys have had their water
from Silver Creek turned off only once, until this year.
said his irrigation water was cut off at the beginning of August.
the oldest water rights fail to see a farmer through a growing season, it
is a good indicator of how bad this year’s drought has been.
indicator of the drought’s intensity is the number of alfalfa cuttings
or harvests farmers have been able to grow.
farmer Shirl Reay can get three cuttings of alfalfa in a good year. This
year he got one cutting and a fraction of a second.
way to judge the damage from this year’s drought is to look at the
grazing for cattle.
rancher Inge Molyneux said that the fall feed ranges have suffered and
that ranchers are bringing their cattle in early.
there’s nothing here for them to feed on either," she said.
irrigate pasture to feed their cattle, ranchers will have to use hay for
feed. And with the alfalfa harvest as poor as it has been this year,
"hay prices are really high now," she said.
rancher Katie Breckenridge said grazing for cattle has dried up earlier
this year than last.
don’t have the water to irrigate pastureland may have to sell their
calves up to a month earlier, she said.
a month earlier means a major difference in a calf’s weight, between 100
and 125 pounds less," she said. And less weight means less money.
farmers and ranchers have been able to do OK this season, because they not
only have surface water rights, but ground water rights. That is, they
pump water from wells.
Molyneuxs grow alfalfa on land irrigated by surface water from the Fish
Creek Reservoir, just like Reay. But unlike Reay, when the reservoir went
dry in mid-July, they were not out of water. They were able to continue
irrigating with pumps.
Reay did not get close to three cuttings of alfalfa, the Molyneuxs got all
were also able to have a good growing season because of their ground water
rights. They not only got four cuttings of alfalfa, they also were able to
grow a crop of barley.
said that the downside to having well water is paying the price of the
electricity to pump it.
power bills for irrigation are up by a third," she said. "That
has virtually kicked out what could have been profit."
drought continues this winter, the kicking will be a lot harder next