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Drought impact obvious in major range, crop losses

Jul 13, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

After addressing commissioners in the past two years about agricultural damages from flooding, Fremont County Farm Service Agency director Andrea Warren delivered a message about how the lack of water is affecting the area.

On Tuesday, Warren told commissioners that agricultural producers in the county will be able to benefit from federal aid programs with a disaster declaration. Gov. Matt Mead has already petitioned U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to issue an agricultural disaster declaration for all Wyoming counties with the exception of Teton County.

With the designation, "we don't know what kind of programs will come," Warren said. "But by getting the designation we are made eligible for the programs."

The commissioners, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Weather Service, conservation districts and others met June 29, and their message about the area's dry conditions was not positive.

"The outlook is, I guess, doom and gloom," Warren said.

Weather officials reported that "hot and dry" conditions would persist through the summer, and Fremont County Weed and Pest noted an increase in the number of grasshoppers, she said. Efforts have been ongoing to control grasshopper populations.

"However, the numbers are so great that the small percentage the chemical does not treat" is still enough to result in a "total loss" for some areas, Warren said.

Range loss

Officials estimated the irrigated crop loss in the county to be 25 percent, she said. Range loss is 90 percent in the South Pass area and 70 percent in the sprawling area including the Wind River Indian Reservation, Dubois, Crowheart and Lander.

For other areas in the county, the grazing loss is about 50 percent, Warren said.

The lack of moisture this year equates to "very little grass growth," she said.

Commissioner Dennis Christensen said the dry conditions will continue to hit livestock producers throughout the year as pastures have less forage for their animals.

"The ranchers that have to come off early are going to be selling less weight," Christensen said.

Normally ranchers would be able to let their animals graze until mid-November, but now they might have to leave pasture lands a month or so earlier, he said.

"I think the losses are going to be cumulative," Christensen said.

Less hay, less revenue

The dry conditions have resulted in lower production yields of hay in Fremont County, which is the largest hay producer in the state, Warren said.

"We produce really high-quality hay" that goes to dairies and other commercial users, "and it's hard for a lot of our ranchers to compete with that kind of price," she said.

The higher prices of hay per ton than in previous years still affect the product's availability, Warren said.

"People are having problems finding any hay at all," she said. "There aren't the stacks that you (normally) see."

Commissioners expressed concern not only about the effect on ranchers but also on the government.

Commissioner Travis Becker said drier conditions affect the property tax revenue that comes from agricultural lands.

Disaster declaration

Mead is hoping for the disaster declaration in the state.

"Wyoming farmers and ranchers are struggling to work through serious impacts caused by drought," Mead wrote to Vilsack last month.

"Over the past month, County Commissioners throughout Wyoming have requested agricultural disaster designations for the 2012 agricultural production year. After consultation with the Wyoming Farm Service Agency it is clear that every Wyoming county with the exception of Teton County has suffered grazing loss and dryland hay loss in excess of the disaster threshold," the governor wrote.

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