Summit County declared as drought disaster area
A dry winter in Summit County has turned into an even drier summer, accompanied by scorching temperatures and wildfires throughout the state, local farmers and ranchers are beginning to struggle to make ends meet.
According to Arthur Douglas, a local rancher and Utah executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Summit County, along with 15 other counties in Utah, has been declared a "drought disaster area" by the USDA.
"The whole West is in a severe drought and went a long time without rain this spring and summer," he said. "On top of that we lost a lot of acres of grassland to fire and used a lot of water to fight them."
Douglas said his hay harvest is down this year due to the drought and that by the end of July, a lot of ranchers may need to find new water supplies to irrigate their fields.
According to Sterling Banks, a Utah State University extension agent, the average rancher in Utah is expected to lose about one-third of their crop yield due to the drought and there has been about a 30 percent reduction in grazing land.
"Ranchers are going to miss some cuttings of alfalfa and hay and because of that they will have to purchase feed for their animals, which will greatly reduce their profits," he said. " running out of irrigation, farmers will also have to purchase water, spending money in a summer when they aren’t making as much of it."
Due to the federal government’s official drought declaration, farmers can receive low interest loans to purchase feed or receive help hauling water from other areas. According to Douglas, farmers who lost their rangeland to fire or drought can also receive help finding public or private lands to graze their animals.
The drought is being felt first and foremost by the state’s ranchers, but Banks said the drought will be affect other consumers as well.
"In the total scheme of things, between Utah’s drought, late frost and the heat wave in the Midwest, grocery stores will soon start charging a lot more for dairy products because the farmers are spending a lot more to feed their cows," he said. "Crop yield is down as well and that will all make its way up the pipeline to the consumer. Only time will tell how much more produce will start to cost."
Two local water companies, Mountain Regional Water and Summit Water, haven’t imposed any water restrictions on residents despite the lack of rainfall or runoff, but are encouraging everyone to conserve.
Summit Water General Manager Van Martin said that they have made contact with their large customers, like parks and commercial properties, and asked them to reduce the number of times they water and to water during cooler times of the day.
"In the water business, we deal with deep dark holes, so you never actually know what your sources hold," he said. "As long as a well doesn’t suddenly go out, we anticipate having enough water to last all summer. And, of course, we are hoping Mother Nature is a little better on us this winter."
For more information on resources available for farmers in Utah, visit http://www.usda.gov .
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