Dry conditions affect winter harvest in panhandle

GOSHEN COUNTY – Yet again, dry conditions are affecting the upcoming winter harvest in the panhandle region.

Wyoming is the fifth driest state and since 1999, much of the state has been in either a moderate or severe drought, according to the Water Resources Data System & State Climate Office. 

A map released by the United States Drought Monitor on Oct. 22 shows northern Goshen County in “extreme drought,” the middle region in “severe drought” and the southwestern portion in “moderate drought.”

According to Cody Creech, Ph.D., Western Nebraska Dryland Cropping Systems Specialist, said it doesn’t appear as though the dry weather will let up anytime soon.

“If you look at the historical pattern that we usually go in, we usually have five to seven years of average to above-average precipitation, and then we have five to seven years of below precipitation,” Creech said. “We had a few really nice years beginning in 2013-2014 up through last year.”

Creech said because producers can expect a dry couple of years ahead, he recommends altering their crop rotations.

“Maybe use some more water-efficient crops or crops that might be a shorter season crop, so we can mitigate that risk of crop failure,” he said. “Whether it’s wheat, millet or another crop, growers just need to be strategic on how they plan their crop rotations going forward.”

Irrigation would normally appease these problems, but increased snowpack could affect the North Platte River that runs through Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming.

According to the Wyoming Water Resources Data System, snowpack levels in Goshen County are between 175-200% of the median as of Oct. 28. 

Creech said one positive aspect of the drought is how “quickly and efficiently” harvest has been going for producers.

According to the USDA, as of Oct. 25, alfalfa hay is 95% harvested, corn is at 76% and sugar beets are at 93%, each well ahead of last year.

However, corn yields have been disappointing, likely due to extreme heat throughout the summer, Creech said.

“Corn typically likes heat, but too much heat can be a bad thing. I think that’s what we saw this year,” he said. 

The early freeze in September did not help corn either.
“The corn was hit two different ways there, and so we’ve seen corn yields be a little bit off this year on those irrigated acres,” Creech said.

Mid-October snowfall affected the sugar beet harvest that was roughly 85-90% complete the morning afterward. Due to cold temperatures, the beets froze, causing problems for producers, according to Creech.

“(Frozen sugar beets) can’t be put in the pile at this time and so they’re gonna have to process those as they come into the factory, so it’s going to be going back to a limited harvest for folks where they can only take in what the plant can process so that they don’t pile those beets anymore,” he said. “They’re only going to be allowing so many beets to come in at a time now with these colder temperatures.”


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