Tue, 7 December 2021
Well, out here in the West we are in a familiar pattern, a pattern of less than optimal forecasts that offer a bit of precipitation and then fall part as they get closer to us. Right now we are experiencing a "weird" La Niña and it is keeping everything dry and warm.
For those of us out here in the West we are the complete opposite of all of you who farm with rainfall. We have to get all of our precipitation in the Winter, store it as snowpack, then store it in reservoirs as it runs off to be able to irrigate with it during the growing season. If we don't get that Winter snowpack, some really hard decisions will have to be made for all of us.
I'm trying to stay optimistic, and certainly it is not time to ring the emergency bell yet, but I have seen this pattern before. This really started for us last winter. We started out really strong and had a good snowpack, but then the precipitation just shut off and we had one of our driest springs on record. I didn't like the lack of weather activity in the spring, but I thought we were going to be okay because of the snowpack. However, it turned out that the dry spring reduced our ability to store all of that spring runoff. With the soil being so dry from a lack of spring precipitation a lot of that runoff went into the soil and not into the reservoirs. So, we were forced to stop irrigating early this year.
I spent this weekend up in the Ketchum and Sun Valley area of Idaho with my family. We traditionally go up to the Wood River Valley on this weekend to play in the snow and to elk hunt. I am used to seeing a foot of snow on the valley floor up there in early December. However, this year there is only snow on the tops of the very highest mountain peaks. All of the hills and mountains around Ketchum are completely bare, and the world famous Sun Valley Ski Resort is operating on a very limited capacity with man made snow. We can still catch up, but looking at this area that is normally buried in snow and seeing it bare starts to wear away at the optimism.
Last Spring when I bought my hay for this year, I offered to commit to the farmer to buy just as much from him this year. However, he wouldn't do it. He just said, "we'll have to wait and see if we get any snow this winter". In my area we are already dealing with a shortage of hay because so many hay fields have been taken out of production due to development. If there is not enough water to get the maximum number of cuttings, that shortage is going to be even worse. That is going to drive prices up, and in the long run there will be some people who just can't get hay.
I find myself trying to figure out how to mitigate what could be a crisis right now. I have an idea that I am pursuing that might allow me to keep quite a bit of the hay that I purchased this spring. With the warm temperatures we have been having and lack of snow, there are still some fields near by me with quite a bit of forage in them. It makes sense for me to see if I can lease them and graze them off while I still have the chance rather than feed the hay I have out in my stack yard. If that does not work, I am going to have to figure out how I am going to find hay for 2022. And, I will be forced to raise prices on my customers as well.
So, this is farming. Admittedly, because we irrigate from snow melt and generally have nothing but fair weather during our growing season we don't seem to deal with crisis caused by weather as much as the rest of you in other parts of the country do. But, it does occasionally happen, and it looks like we will either have an incredible burst of precipitation in the beginning of 2022 to get us back to normal, or this will be one of those years for us. Let's hope for the precipitation for everyone in the West!
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