Ron Richner raises 200 acres of irrigated hay along the North Platte River near Casper, WY. Like many Western growers, he worries whether his irrigation district will give him enough water to keep his alfalfa-orchardgrass mix from succumbing to the effects of the seven-plus-year drought in his area.

“We're in a small irrigation district in the middle of the state and Nebraska has the first water right on the Platte River. We're getting down to the bottom of the barrel in our reservoir storage — when we're full we have 10 years of storage and we're down to about the last two years now,” he estimates.

“We need some moisture or a lot of us are going to be hurting in this irrigation district.”

Producing a quality crop was tough this year, he says. The district allowed growers only 2 acre-feet per acre of water and shut it off 15 days early.

Yet Richner managed his water resources well enough to produce hay that won the 2007 World's Forage Analysis Superbowl grand championship. This was the second year in a row that a Wyoming grower garnered the top honor. Other growers from the state also placed well.

Richner's third-cutting entry tested 19.6% crude protein, 26.1% NDF and 52.3% NDF digestibility with a relative forage quality score of 270.6. His entry was submitted by the Wyoming Business Council. The council, says Scott Keith, its livestock and forage program manager, pays for Wyoming State Fair winners' entries into the superbowl.

Most years, Richner can get three cuttings even though the irrigation district was set up to allow for two. “We've kind of pushed it to where we can get three cuttings, just by watching and cutting early sometimes, and making rotations on the field so we can get water back on it. A lot of years we could buy extra water. Not this year.”

He regularly checks fields, realizing that each holds water differently, and adjusts his water strategy to accommodate.

Richner has also learned to have patience. “If Mother Nature isn't pushing you, you're better off to wait an extra day if you don't know for sure if the hay's dry. If a bale has mold on it, people are going to bring it back and you're going to get a bad name.”

He bales small squares primarily for horse owners, who want hay free of mold and dust. His dad, Ed, who used to ranch nearby, helps bale. “I was taught by my dad how to bale,” Richner says.

They bale for a few hours late at night or in the morning, while the dew holds leaves on the plants.

“I cut 17 to 20 acres at a time,” he says. “With a small operation, I can work around it. The cool nights help.”

His wife, Stacey, and his mom, Juanita, are also essential to his operation — which has diversified into some interesting areas. They live near one of the hottest fly-fishing spots in Wyoming and charter drift boats to fly fishermen.

And during the winter, they bale choice alfalfa into mini-bales for rabbit owners, selling other bales to craft people. “I ship them to California and Hawaii and here in Casper I sell them to the feed store,” he says. Mini-bales of barley straw also go to craft people or are sold to fight algae in water tanks.

The baler, built by Richner and his dad, uses a hydraulic press that pushes bales down a chute. But he ties the 2- to 2½-lb bales by hand. “I haven't had time to get a knotter on it,” he says. He's also thinking of trying to produce 20- to 25-lb bales for horse owners for individual feeding. But that may be down the road somewhat. “We've got lots of irons in the fire,” he confesses.

Another Wyoming grower, Dennis Wambolt of Wambolt Cattle Co., Torrington, took grand champion first-time entrant honors. His fourth-cutting entry tested 22.1% crude protein and NDF, with NDFd at 56.2%and RFQ at 324.6.

The top three winners in each of six divisions follow.

Commercial hay: 1st — Paul Peterson, American Fork, UT; 2nd — Hardrock Farms, Wheatland, WY; 3rd — Kellie Hinman, also of Wheatland.

Commercial baleage: 1st — Kendall Guither, Walnut, IL; 2nd — Ainger Farms, Harvard, IL; 3rd — Scott Mayer, Effingham, IL.

Dairy haylage: 1st — Birten Farms Inc., Mt. Calvary, WI; 2nd — Luke Haywood, Hastings, MI; 3rd — Carl Nehm, Ripon, WI.

Dairy hay: 1st — S&B Dairy, Effingham, IL; 2nd — Karl and Barb Wogsland, Scandinavia, WI; 3rd — Julie Kestell, Waldo, WI.

Dairy corn silage (non-BMR): 1st — Goma Dairy Farm LLC, Marlette, MI; 2nd — Lynn Bros., Unity, WI; 3rd — El-Na Farms LLC, Algoma, WI.

BMR dairy corn silage: 1st — Luke Haywood; 2nd — Pine Tree Dairy Farm, Rittman, OH; 3rd — Hood Farms, Paw Paw, MI.

The annual superbowl is sponsored by Hay & Forage Grower, AgSource Cooperative Services, DairyBusiness Communications, World Dairy Expo and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.