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Rain helps Utah farmers, but drought impacts to be felt for years

Posted at 5:08 PM, Sep 01, 2021

SPRINGVILLE, Utah — Right off the freeway in Springville, Harward Farms has been in business since 1945. Jake Harward’s grandfather started the farm, which now produces a variety of produce and is a large hay distributor. The Harwards have 25 produce stands throughout the state.

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Weather is always the biggest challenge farmers face, Harward said. The dry winter and historical drought have caused for a difficult year.

“This year we were pretty much planting into dry dirt, and we had to use our irrigation water to sprinkle, and flood irrigate to get our crops to even germinate to come up. When usually we have Mother Nature on our side,” Harward said.

The Harward farm has lost tens of thousands of dollars in revenue this year due to the drought conditions.

“You are spending a lot more time with irrigation, moving pipe, pumping water, trying to get it on the fields where you need it,” said Harward.

WATCH: Long-term forecasts show Utah's drought possibly getting worse

Harward Farm’s largest acreage crop is alfalfa and with the drought, their crop has produced less. Alfalfa is sold as hay for farmers to feed livestock. The first two cuttings of alfala, out of the four, were much lighter than normal, Harward said.

“If you don’t have a good first crop, it’s hard to make it up,” he said.

The impacts from this year’s drought will be felt for years to come, Ron Gibson, President of the Utah Farm Bureau, said.

“Despite some much-needed recent summer rains, 88 percent of our state remains in extreme drought," he said. "Ranchers in the central and southern parts of Utah have had to sell off animals early at a fraction of their value. Farmers in many areas have had irrigation water already shut off, and most have dealt with some kind of cuts in water this year.”

Harward says recent rainfall has been a game changer.

“We were able to turn off a lot of the irrigation for 10 days in August, which is usually unheard of, and so that is just going to extend our water a little bit further into the fall, and then hopefully we can store a little bit of that that we didn’t use because we don’t know how our water will be this winter,” he said.

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Gibson is calling on western leaders to make some changes.

“These recent storms have helped rescue some farmers from disaster, and they have the potential to greatly help with storage next spring. Utah’s farmers and ranchers are resilient, and are looking to reduce water use along with everyone else. They have worked hard through technology and other means to be efficient with water. But they can’t do it alone. The time has come for Utah and the west to invest in water infrastructure and storage,” he said.

People can support local farmers by shopping at produce stands, farmers markets, farms and ranches, Harward urged.

“We are struggling out here and we are trying to do the best we can.”