What is in this article?:
- Western Hay Growers Wait On Water Availability
- Idaho, Washington Get Water
Many Western states are experiencing drought, worrying hay growers looking for water.
Alfalfa growers in parts of the West hit with drought may not be given irrigation water allotments this growing season.
The U.S. Drought Monitor map for the Western U.S., released March 20, did little to ease many regional hay growers’ concerns whether they’ll have enough water during the upcoming growing season.
Nearly all of California is experiencing drought, with just more than two-thirds of the state falling into the severe or exceptional drought categories, the map shows. Large pockets of Nevada and New Mexico also are in severe and exceptional drought.
Predictions that the drought would persist or intensify in those three states as well as in parts of Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas were made in the Spring Outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), also released March 20. If that comes to pass, “it will likely result in an active wildfire season, continued stress on crops and livestock due to low water levels and an expansion of water conservation measures,” according to an NOAA press release.
The drought monitor map, however, did offer a few bright spots. March rain and mountain snowfall in the Cascades brought some relief to parts of Oregon and Washington. Recent heavy snow also eased moderate drought conditions in southern Idaho.
In the following reports, growers from several of the region’s major hay-growing areas tell what current conditions have to offer:
Nevada. Western and northern parts of the state appear headed for a second straight year of severe drought, reports Dan Knisley, an alfalfa grower and broker in Lovelock. He grows alfalfa on 1,900 acres of flood-irrigated ground at Great Basin Farms.
Last year, Knisley’s water allotment for the entire growing season was just 10% of normal. Even with a fair amount of carryover moisture in the ground early on, his production for 2013 was just 30% of normal.
“Things could still turn around, but right now it’s not looking good. They tell us that the snowpack is about 80-90%, but there’s nothing coming into the river. We’ll know a lot more by May,” he says. This year, his allotment is likely to be zero.
“Concerns about the potential shortfall are already pushing area hay prices higher. Contracts for “good, green hay” going to California are $225-230/ton, up $20-30/ton from last year’s levels. “Those are just sales I’ve been involved in. I’ve heard of even higher prices. There are a lot of people aggressively looking to get next season’s hay bought right now. It’s an uncertain market.”
New Mexico. Parts of the state remain extremely dry coming out of winter, reports alfalfa grower and custom baler Doug Whitney, of Roswell.
“In our area, we haven’t had any noticeable precipitation since November, just a couple of minor storms that didn’t give us anything measurable,” he says. “We’ve been in drought for the last four years. Right now, we’re seeing a massive amount of tumbleweeds and dust with drifts of blowing sand accumulating.”
Whitney, a past president of the New Mexico Hay Association, expects to have enough metered water to irrigate his crop through the season. “But continued drought is taking its toll on our wells, particularly the shallow basin ones. We’ll still need a helping hand from Mother Nature. If we don’t get it, our production could be off by 15-35% this year.”
He estimates that new-crop prices will start at last year’s levels – $260-290/ton for high-end alfalfa at the farm. “The overall feed supply in our area isn’t quite as short as it has been in recent years. But it’s dry in such a large area around us that I don’t see it (the supply) being long by any means.”
Dairies in the region have been shifting away from hay to corn silage in their feeding rations, he notes. “That may shift the pressure off the hay supply. But, then again, you can only grow as much of either one of those crops as you have water for.”