06-15-21 BUSINESS farmers and water shortage 1 DSC_0818.JPG

Jim Adams works to cut and harvest hay from a field off of Decker Road, just north of Sheridan, in 90-plus degree heat Monday, June 14, 2021. Heat and the potential for a water shortage have some ranchers and farmers concerned over hay production this summer.

SHERIDAN — While it might not be a problem yet, the potential for a water shortage, even drought-like conditions, is already a concern for area ranchers farmers and ranchers.

The concerns aren’t only over dry weather conditions and high temperatures, but what those could do to impact the price of feed products, such as hay, and to increase operational costs.

Dave Schroeder, superintendent of the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office Division 2 office based in Sheridan, said currently the water situation is not an issue with regional reservoirs being at or near full capacity.

“The snowpack was average to above average this year,” Schroeder said. “We do have a plethora of storage facilities in certain drainages.”

However, Schroeder added the annual snow melt is pretty much completed “a few weeks sooner” than usual and high temperatures could impact the levels of local creeks and rivers

“With the warmer temperatures, it’s quickly lowering,” he said. “We watch this very closely.”

Blaine Horn, area extension educator for Johnson County specializing in ranch land management, agreed with Schroeder that, for the most part, “we’re in pretty good shape.

“I don’t think we’re looking at any issues, at least not for the first cutting,” he said. “Granted, we’ve had warmer weather as of late.”

Horn added Mother Nature could help quell any concerns with a good rain.

“The trouble with this time of year, it’s hit or miss,” he said.

With rain or cooler temperatures, Schroeder said state officials might have to consider issuing water regulations, which are often issued in mid-July, on water usage earlier than normal. Those could now come by the end of June or early July, he said.

The potential for a water shortage and potential regulations already has some ranchers worried.

Jim Fennema, a rancher and farmer in the Clearmont area, said he’s already seeing higher hay prices, as much as 25% higher “at least,” compared to last year.

“That’s a lot,” he said.

According to Fennema, the current water and irrigation for hay fields isn’t a problem.

“We’re cutting our first right now,” he said. “We have enough water, the guys here in the valley, we’ll have enough water for a second cutting.”

Some might even have enough water this summer for a third cutting. Fennema said, however, that could depend on the status of an individual rancher’s water rights.

He said he’s also concerned about the lack of rain recently.

“It’s not looking good,” Fennema said. “The creeks are really depleted.”

That could have ranchers dipping into water reservoirs earlier than anticipated.

“The way things are going, we could be in that two weeks sooner than that. At least, that’s what I’m seeing,” he said. “We haven’t had much rain this spring. We just haven’t had any.”

Brian Arndt, who runs a custom harvest business in Sheridan, agrees a potential water shortage could lead to higher feed prices, especially after what he considers a down crop last year.

“The hay crop was poor last year, too,” Arndt said. “This year, you’re just compounding those factors.

“If we don’t get some rain, it’s only going to get worse. … There’s a (hay) shortage from last year. We had hoped coming into this year it’d rain and we’d get back to normal,” he added. “We’re going to see high prices.”

Water issues and resulting hay prices could lead some ranchers to sell off part of their herd this summer, as they seek to reduce operational costs, according to Arndt. That, in turn, could eventually lead to higher prices for beef products for consumers.

Both Fennema and Arndt said a reduced hay crop this year could have other lingering implications.

If grazing areas are dry, Fennema said some ranchers may have to dip into their hay supply earlier than normal, thus increasing the potential for hay shortages next year.

“This definitely has a trickle down effect,” he said. “I think it is going to be an issue. It’s not going to be a good year for a lot of people.”

Arndt said higher hay and feed prices will most likely also be an issue for residents who own animals, such as horses, for recreational purposes.

“It affects more than just ranchers. It affects the whole food chain,” he said. “There’s a lot of trickle down. … It’s just driving the nail into the coffin.”

Individuals may monitor local water levels online at seoflow.wyo.gov.

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