Drought tough on ranchers | PostIndependent.com

Drought tough on ranchers

Frank Daley faces some hard choices this year.

He is facing the third dry spring in a row on Divide Creek, and the prospect of reducing his cattle operation to cut expenses.

Last year Daley lost 55 percent of his hay and alfalfa crop. This year looks like it will be the same.

“This is the first time we’ve had more than one bad year in a row,” said Daley, who has ranched the place for 23 years. “We can manage for one year. We bought hay. We fed quite a bit of corn last year; it’s cheaper.”

Daley takes a big financial hit when he has to buy hay to feed his cattle. In normal years the cost of hay is between $60 and $70 a ton. But he expects it to go up to between $100 and $120 a ton this year.

“It definitely isn’t feasible to buy hay” and make his operation pay, he said.

If the drought continues, Daley will sell off more of his herd.

Last year he sold about three times as many replacement heifers as the year before. Replacement heifers are cows that would normally be bred and take the place of older breeding cows.

“In Montana the drought went on for five to six years. There’s no reason why it can’t happen here,” he said.

This year Daley will apply for crop insurance through the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

Although ranchers and farmers have received compensation for crop loss in the past, a new program goes into effect this year. It allows them to apply for compensation before the loss occurs, according to Drenda Murchison, spokeswoman for the Farm Service Agency in Glenwood Springs.

Previously, farmers and ranchers could apply for assistance only after the crop failure occurred, Murchison said.

Last year, 120 farmers and ranchers in Pitkin, Garfield and Eagle counties applied to the Farm Service Agency, which paid almost $500,000 in compensation, Murchison said.

The lost hay sales were a big hit to the area’s economy.

“People look at our tourism as the major industry. But our hay farmers bring in a lot of money to the area,” she said.

This year she’s already taken 50 applications for the new Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, and expects that number could exceed last year’s.

The new program provides financial assistance for crop loss that tops 50 percent.

Under the terms of the program, ranchers and farmers pay a $100 service fee per crop, but no more than $300 for all crops, she said. The deadline for applying for the program is April 18.

“They can claim as many crops as they want,” she said.

Compensation is based on the farmer’s volume of production. In the past it was based on a countywide average.

In Garfield County, hay is estimated to average 2.7 tons per acre, she said.

“That’s right for south of the river, but on Silt Mesa, they produce four to five tons per acre,” she said.

The new program now bases compensation on the actual crop loss a particular farmer or rancher suffers, she added.

For more information about the program call Murchison at 945-5494, ext. 2, or visit the Farm Service Agency website at http://www.fsa.usda.gov.

Daley has already applied for the new compensation program, knowing his hay and alfalfa crops will be down again this year.

“There isn’t any way we’ll get enough moisture to make it a normal year,” he said.

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