Meetings seek producer inputWritten by Saige Albert
Thermopolis – In the sixth of a series of meetings held by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA), Deputy Director Doug Miyamoto said, “We have been trying to open a dialogue between producers on the ground, the WDA and state government in general.”
The most recent meeting was held in Thermopolis on Aug. 8 and was attended by nearly 30 producers, all with concerns about the drought and available assistance.
A water situation
Larry Bentley of the WDA Natural Resource and Policy Division said, “We are in a little better shape than the rest of the state.”
Regardless, producers reported lack of water and available feed.
“Lots of pastures have pockets of forage that is still there, but they don’t have water so the cows aren’t able to get to them,” mentioned Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservationist Jim Mischke.
Rancher Matt Brown of Thermopolis added, “We went from 136 percent of normal snowpack last year to only 54 percent this year.”
Brown noted that some water wells that withstood drought in the 2000s are now drying up, and hay production levels have decreased, necessitating the likely purchase of hay.
“I don’t know how long our feed will hold up,” he commented.
Other producers echoed his remarks, also noting that they are unable to get commitment on the availability of hay from long-standing suppliers.
Jim Wilson, another Hot Springs County rancher, said ranchers need to focus on taking care of their operation themselves, and feeding cows may not be a viable option.
“You cannot move a cow 800 to 900 miles and bring her home – it doesn’t makes sense,” he said. “We are not going to feed ourselves out of a drought, and we are not going to be able to buy hay.”
While Miyamoto noted that the WDA has been searching for available pasture and feed resources, the nearest seems to be hundreds of miles away.
“We are soliciting any available hay or rentable pasture, and the closest we have seen is in northern North Dakota,” Miyamoto explained. “We have also heard of some in Saskatchewan and Alberta.”
The WDA features a list of available feed resources on their website.
He also mentioned that cooperation between agencies has also yielded potential possibilities. Several programs available through USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) provide the possibility for producers to secure emergency loans and in some counties graze or hay CRP lands.
Sherri Foust, county executive director for USDA’s FSA, noted that programs are out there, but funding is not available.
“There are several things I can help with, if we can get the funding,” she said, mentioning that spring development, water well drilling and water hauling, as well as livestock feed programs are available. “It is not a guarantee that we will get the funding.”
Deferral of taxes on capital gains is also an option, but producers were encouraged to consult with their tax advisors to make that decision.
As for the future, the industry is hoping to see moisture this winter, and the longevity of the drought is unclear.
“If we don’t get moisture this winter, we might not have seen the worst yet,” added Wilson. “How much we get and when we get it is the deciding factor.”
“I think we will survive this year, but what are we going to do next year?” Brown said of the situation. “It could get critical. It is tough out there.”