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Farmers in Cache Valley face dry winter  

February 24th, 2015 Posted in Opinion

As the winter of 2015 continues to have higher than average temperatures and lower than average precipitation, farmers in Cache Valley are preparing for a growing season with less irrigation water than in previous years.

“There’s going to be less water to use for irrigation this year,” said Laurie McNeill, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Utah State University. “It’s a serious concern because agriculture is a huge part of our local economy.”

The National Weather Service reported on Feb. 14 that Utah had experienced 41 consecutive days of temperatures above normal. Utah has remained warm and dry because of a weather pattern that causes major winter storms to bypass the state.

“Usually there are some serious storms in February to build up the snow in the mountains,” said Jeffrey Gittins, a farmer from Smithfield. “We just aren’t seeing those storms this year.”

Clark Israelsen, the Utah State University agricultural extension agent for Cache County, had many of the same concerns.

“Because it has been so dry, there’s limited moisture in the soil and very little snow in the mountains,” he said. “There’s worry that the plants won’t germinate and grow, and if they do grow that there won’t be enough irrigation to water them during the hot days of summer.”

Israelsen said that in the past the county’s reliable irrigation system has been helpful in situations like this.

“We have continued to improve on our irrigation system,” he said. “It’s efficient and very little water is lost.”

He added, however, that irrigation doesn’t matter if there isn’t any melting snow to start with.

“We just have to keep our hopes up,” he said.

Gittins is trying different ways to lessen the impact of the lack of precipitation.  

“I don’t know if we can ever fix this problem,” he said. “What we can do is minimize it. We can use farming techniques that are not as water intensive. We can start to irrigate earlier so the soil isn’t dry.”

Gittins also emphasized the importance of education.

“People are so used to having water that we forget it’s a finite quantity,” he said. “A lot of this is advance notice and education. If people know that it’s a balancing act between water for the city and water for agriculture, we can regulate it and make sure the water is spread as evenly and equally as possible.”

Shelby Ruud, Kristen Steiner, Thomas Sorenson, Parker Atkinson and Ethan Trunnell contributed to this report.


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