Surviving the cuts

Drought impact on local hay crop varies around region

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Andy Carter bales hay from his third cutting at his farm north of Cortez. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Andy Carter bales hay from his third cutting at his farm north of Cortez.

What has been called the worst drought since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s has had a varied impact on local farmers and ranchers.

“This is as bad as it’s been since the Dust Bowl,” said Paul White, the county executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. He noted the dust that existed at the time of the “Dust Bowl” isn’t prevalent now because of modern cultivation practices.

The drought has impacted two-thirds of the country, he said. Locally, “We’re not as bad as some (areas). We’re not as good as others.”

For those farmers and ranchers under the Dolores Water Conservation District or Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., the hay crops have yielded their full three cuts, he said.

But for those who draw water from the Summit Ridge Irrigation District, Jackson Lake or Mancos River, the impact has been severe. Most of those producers may only have been able to do one cut this year, which likely took place in June. A few may have been able to do a second cut.

Others in the Mancos area who were impacted by the Weber Fire had other headaches. Pete Doerfer’s hay crop was affected by ash that was deposited into his crop after runoff from heavy rains, White said. Doerfer could not be reached for comment.

Jim Fisher has been haying since 2006 on leased land. This year he’s been working Charlie “Toad” Porter’s 250-acre farm, along with an additional 150 acres of leased land.

Fisher is getting ready for his third cut. He’s not been too affected by the drought, he said.

On Porter’s farm on the south side of Cortez, Fisher’s not worried about bringing in the third crop, but it’s questionable on the leased land he farms on the north side of the city.

Fisher said his hay has sold quicker than normal because of the drought.

Simon Martinez, operations manager at the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch, said they have been able to complete their normal four cuttings of hay this year. “We just finished the fourth cutting on Sept. 3,” he said.

Tonnage is about the same as previous years, Martinez said, but the quality may differ because of the warm nights in the spring. The relative feed value of the fourth cut has not been measured yet. Although the tonnage is the same as 2011, Martinez wonders if it will be the same next year due to the drought. “We don’t know what our water allocation will be for next year.” (The Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch draws its water from McPhee Reservoir and the Dolores Water Conservation District.)

Referring to the weather this year, “It was like we went from winter to summer with no spring,” he said.

Because of the drought, the farm might not plant its winter wheat crop that is usually planted in late October.

The price of hay for dairy cattle has increased from $180 a ton in June to nearly $240 a ton now, White said. Most of the hay grown in Montezuma County is higher quality “alfalfa grass” and intended for dairy cows. Lower-grade hay for beef cattle has been scarce, he said.

calebs@cortezjournal.com

Hay cutting operations, like at this small field in McElmo Canyon, are wrapping up for the season throughout the region. Enlargephoto

Dale Shrull/Cortez Journal

Hay cutting operations, like at this small field in McElmo Canyon, are wrapping up for the season throughout the region.

Javier Calderon picks up bales of hay at the Decker Hay Farm south of town. It was the third cutting for the field this year. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Javier Calderon picks up bales of hay at the Decker Hay Farm south of town. It was the third cutting for the field this year.