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Record Warmth, Dry Start to 2015

By Arthur Meunier, National Weather Service Riverton Office Forecaster

2015 started out very dry across Wyoming. The statewide average precipitation for the first quarter, January through March, was only 2.25 inches which was 69 percent of the 20th century average, making it the seventh driest first quarter in Wyoming over the last 121 years. 

Wyoming experienced its warmest first quarter of the year after 121 years of records with a statewide average temperature of 30.6 degrees Fahrenheit (F). This was 7.3 degrees F above the 20th century average and broke the previous first quarter record set in 1934 when the statewide average temperature was 29.9 degrees F. 

Drought status 

The below-normal precipitation and record warm temperatures combined to leave much below normal snowpack across the state with peak runoff expected from two weeks to a month earlier than normal this spring.

Wyoming began 2015 drought-free. 

However, with dry and record warm conditions, moderate to severe drought pushed north from the Eastern Great Basin into southwest Wyoming in February and March. The latest “Drought Monitor” also showed abnormally dry conditions across most other areas west of the Continental Divide and in the northeast corner of the state. 

Precipitation

Statewide average precipitation for April was 1.84 inches which was 104 percent of the 20th century average. 

The southeast quarter of the state accounted for most of the excess where precipitation amounts were 150 to over 200 percent of normal. Northern and western Wyoming ended April with generally 40 to 80 percent of normal precipitation. One notable exception was Cody, which received 1.66 inches of precipitation in April, which was 157 percent of normal. Just down the road, Greybull reported only 0.11 inches in April, which was 15 percent of normal. 

For the current water year, October 2014 through September 2015, statewide average precipitation through April was 7.56 inches, which is 91 percent of the 20th century average. 

The southeast and central portions of the state have received from 100 to 150 percent of normal precipitation so far this water year, while the west and northeast sections of the state were the driest with 40 to 80 percent of normal precipitation. 

River and streamflow conditions

During the first week of May, mountain snowpack across the state was 55 percent of average. 

The Upper Bear River Basin in the southwest corner was on the low end at 13 percent, and the South Platte River Basin was on the high end at 96 percent. Most of the higher mountain ranges across the state were between 55 and 70 percent of average snowpack. 

During the first week of May in 2014, the statewide average snowpack was 136 percent of average with all drainage basins above 90 percent of average. 

Below normal – from 50 to 65 percent – snowmelt streamflow volumes are expected across all major basins across Wyoming. Several central and southern basins, including the Upper North Platte, the Wind, the Little Snake and the Upper Bear are forecasted to have well below, or less than 60 percent, normal streamflow volumes during the upcoming snowmelt season. The good news is that Wyoming carryover reservoir storages are 110 to 120 percent of average for May. 

Fire weather impacts

Years with warmer than average spring temperatures and below average snowpack tend to have the most active fire seasons, especially the number of large fires over 1,000 acres. 

1988 and 2012 were the two extreme examples, with over a dozen large wildfires in each year after very warm spring conditions combined with much below average snowpack. 

This year, there is a higher than usual likelihood that wildfires will occur and become significant events in July and August across north and central Wyoming. 

Precipitation and temperature outlooks

The three-month outlook for May, June and July shows above normal precipitation is most probable from West Texas through the Rockies, including all of Wyoming. 

Above normal precipitation is most probable across Wyoming, Colorado and Utah during the summer and early autumn. Above normal temperatures are expected during May, June and July across most of the Intermountain West including western Wyoming. 

This temperature trend is also expected to continue through the summer into early autumn. 

More information

For more information, the following websites are available. 

Visit weather.gov/riw/drought for drought graphics, monthly and seasonal climate summaries, river and streamflow conditions, temperature and precipitation outlooks, snowpack and reservoir information. 

The National Weather Service Advanced Hydrologic Predictive Services (AHPS) is available at nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/wy/home.

Water and climate data for the state of Wyoming is available at wrds.uwyo.edu, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snow Survey out of Casper, as well as the Wyoming basin outlook reports, snowpack reports and water supply outlooks, can be found at wrds.uwyo.edu/wrds/nrcs/nrcs.html

The U.S. Geological Survey’s water resources of Wyoming and Montana are available at wy-mt.water.usgs.gov/projects/drought.

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Spring is Here: Be Calm, Plan and Calibrate

By Meryl Rygg McKenna, Rocky Mountain Certified Crop Advisers

Spring arrived in much of Montana about three to four weeks earlier than last year. Farmers in some areas are planting spring crops, while in other areas early April snow and freezing temperatures put the brakes on seeding.

Corny Dane, certified crop adviser (CCA) at Mountain View Co-op in North Central Montana, said the spring cycles stress plants, with temperatures below freezing at night and into the 50s or 60s during the day. 

Weather stresses

Every National Weather Service (NWS) reporting station in Montana showed average temperatures above normal in March, with no monthly averages below normal. Eleven stations statewide reported 10 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, according to NWS data. Similar conditions are evident in North Dakota, according to its March 30 Crop Progress and Condition report.

Low moisture further stresses plants. Dane reported instances of winter wheat losing progress it had gained with the warm temperatures, because of the lack of moisture. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s Palmer Drought Index offers overviews and discussion on moisture conditions nationwide. It shows that much of the nation is experiencing increasingly dry conditions.

Fertilizing

Most years, producers call for fertilizer on hay ground and winter wheat first before the spring crop craze. This year, however, conditions are such that topdressing winter wheat is happening at the same time as fertilizing spring crops in some areas. 

This increases the challenge for drivers. Everyone wants the job done at once. There seems to be a perennial deficit of workers and equipment for spring fertilizer needs, and that problem increases in a year like this. 

In the midst of growers’ spring fever, here are some reminders from Agronomy Division Manager Gareth Redgrave, also at Mountain View Co-op and a member of the Rocky Mountain CCA Board.

Take time to scout

While focusing on getting in the spring crop, remember to scout winter wheat fields. There have been reports of powdery mildew and over-wintering rust disease in several Montana counties. 

Winter annuals such as cheatgrass are growing like crazy, according to Redgrave. Controlling cheatgrass in the spring is always unpredictable and most herbicide labels are restricted to specific crop growth stages. Paying heed to weeds present, growth stage of weeds and crop and effectiveness of different herbicides pays off in the long run.

Scout fields prior to pre-plant spraying to look for emerged broadleaf weeds that may require an additional additive or herbicide to be tank-mixed with the glyphosate. There have been several reports of button-sized kochia already emerged and at this growth stage they are hard to control with glyphosate alone. There are several tank-mix options that can aid in the control of button-sized kochia. 

Calibrate, calibrate, calibrate

Make sure you are calibrating the drill when you are using granular inoculants for legumes. There are frequently shortages of inoculants, and this year is no exception to the rule. 

If you don’t calibrate correctly you will be either under- or over-applying. If you under-apply there will be poor nodulation, and if you over-apply, not only will you increase costs, but there may not be any inoculant available to complete the planting. 

Fertilizer nitrogen source

With this weather, volatility of urea becomes a bigger concern. 

Growers may want to consider using fertilizer treatments that contain the urease inhibitor N-(n-butyl) thiophosphoric triamide (NBPT) to control volatilization for up to 14 days. There are other products that are marketed to control volatilization, but to this date only NBPT has been proven effective by MSU research and is also included as an option in the CSP program. 

NBPT products can also be added to UAN (urea ammonium nitrate or 32 solution) at half the rate needed for urea and will provide the same level of protection against volatility. 

Growers will need to work out the economics of this option compared to treating and topdressing urea. If growers want to use UAN instead of urea, they need to plan ahead because there is limited infrastructure, storage and delivery equipment for UAN in Montana. 

Be calm and be safe

It is more important to do things right the first time than to do them fast. 

“Calm down, plan ahead, communicate with your supplier, and we will get through this spring just like we have done numerous times,” Redgrave said. “When planning, follow the 4 Rs: right source, right rate, right time and right place.” 

Always read and follow label directions, even if you read them last year. Recommendations and directions can change. Wear protective gloves, suits, masks and other gear as recommended on the label. 

Some factors are within human control, while many others are not. The best a grower can do is to scout, pay attention, control what can be controlled and be ready to roll with the punches. The rest is up to Mother Nature. 

There is a saying that goes something like, “The hands that feed the world are often missing fingers.” Make safety, not speed, the top priority.

For more information on certified crop advisers or to find one near you, visit certifiedcropadviser.org. Montana State University’s Ag Alerts are available at mtagalert.org.

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Groan: What Happens as We Age?

By Randy R. Weigel, Former Director of Wyoming AgrAbility

Older ranchers and farmers must deal with the effects of aging just like everyone else. What are “normal” changes that can increase risk for ranchers and farmers as they age? Deborah Reed, professor of nursing at the University of Kentucky, specializes in agricultural health and safety. She lists the following as normal changes as we age. 

In our 30s, we begin to see decreased respiratory capacity. Our 40s are marked by presbyopia. In our 50s we see compromised joints, followed by skin changes in our 60s, decreased distal sensation in our 70s and decreased temperature tolerance in our 80s.

'Bag of wind' syndrome

Here’s what happens. In your mid-20s, you reach a maximum respiratory capacity. You can go longer, talk faster, jump higher and everything else in your 20s because your lungs are at their peak.

After that it’s downhill. If you are a smoker, it goes downhill twice as fast.  

Starting at about the age of 30, your lung capacity begins to decrease. By the time you are 50 your lung capacity may be half of what it was in your youth. 

Decreased lung capacity means respiratory function is impaired and less oxygen is getting into your cells. This explains why shortness of breath, decreased endurance and susceptibility to respiratory illness commonly increases with age.

'Long arm' syndrome

Presbyopia, which is a nice word for what I call “long arm” syndrome happens in your 40s. 

The lens of the eye begins to yellow and flatten. If you see people trying to read things like restaurant menus and they are holding it at arm’s length, that is presbyopia. In your 40s that’s a natural occurrence. 

'Snap, crackle and pop' syndrome

By the time you’re in your 50s, you have the “snap, crackle and pop”  syndrome. 

Your joints begin to lose the lubricant they have between the bones, and the collagen begins to compress. It can lead to bone on bone contact. When you get out of bed you experience pain and you have to stretch. 

Noises that you are making can change from pleasant sounds in your youth to painful sounds as you try to get out of bed. 

'Connect the dots' syndrome

By the time you are in your 60s, you can have a game to play with your grandchildren – connect the dots, because your skin begins to develop dots on it that you didn’t have before because of long-term exposure to the sun. 

Ranchers’ s and farmers’ skin changes can be even worse. That is normal. 

You also begin to lose the fatty layer underneath the skin, so you can pinch up the skin at times.

'Lobster claw' syndrome

By the time you’re in your 70s, when you reach for things, you may not feel them. That’s because the nerve endings at the ends of your fingers and toes begin to decrease, resulting in decreased distal sensation. 

If you are diabetic it happens at a younger age. Diabetes takes a toll on fingers and toes. 

Think about what this might mean to you. If you try to pick up a wrench, nut or bolt to do repair work and you can’t feel them like you used to, it becomes more difficult to do the work. 

'Grandma' syndrome

By the time you are in your 80s, you develop the grandma syndrome. You need a shawl even when it’s 90 degrees. You don’t have good temperature tolerance. Your window of being comfortable is between 75 and 80 degrees. Anything different than that and you feel cold.  

Hyper- and hypothermia are very real problems in your 80s and above. 

Normal changes

These are normal changes as we age. There is no magic formula despite what you see on TV. This will happen to you. You can be prepared for what is coming, or if you are already there, now you can explain it. 

The other thing that happens as age advances is you have prolonged recovery times. What used to take you two weeks to get over may take a month to get over now. Respiratory infections will take longer. Broken bones take longer to heal. Your resistance goes down as you begin to age.

Older ranchers and farmers are also at risk because their reflexes begin to slow. You can’t move as fast because it hurts, and your joints are stiff. There is also physical degeneration of the muscles. Even if you are out all day working, your muscles atrophy as you age. 

In her study Safety Strategies for Older Adult Farmers, Reed was interested in how older ranchers and farmers changed their work as they aged to make it easier. What were some adaptations older ranchers and farmers made?

They increased the use of four-wheelers and ATVs. They began to think and plan the day so they could conserve energy.

They paced themselves and took more frequent rest breaks, saying, “When I get tired, I quit.” They hired younger people to help do the more physically demanding tasks.

They did more maintenance on their equipment so they wouldn’t have to do repair work when tired or under pressure to reduce the chance of an accident.

They began taking short vacations so they wouldn’t get fatigued. Fatigue is the leading cause of injury in older ranchers and farmers. And, get this – they even began to take naps. Who would think of a rancher taking a nap?

But as one rancher mentioned, “I found I had to take a nap because I literally could not go anymore. I just began to build naptime into my workday. And, now I go out to feed at 7. I used to go at 5.”

Randy R. Weigel is professor emeritus and Extension specialist in the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4186 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Farms and Ranchers are Tired of EPA Doubletalk

By Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau President

Business owners around the country have joined with farmers and ranchers in speaking out on the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. More than 30 states also oppose the rule. Yet, even in the face of mounting opposition, the EPA still isn’t listening.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has unveiled her latest, campaign-style WOTUS spin, calling the effort the “Clean Water Rule” – as though a bumper-sticker approach to a complex regulation would change anything for people so profoundly affected by her agency’s actions.

Slogans may matter more than facts at the EPA, but the details still matter to farmers and ranchers who know full-well the importance of clean water. We depend on it for our livelihoods, after all. Our biggest objection, in fact, is not about clean water. It’s about land.

McCarthy insists that the rule will allow business as usual for agriculture. She has said farmers and ranchers won’t need special permits “to go about their business.” But what she’s saying just doesn’t match up with the language of the rule. Anyone who’s been out on farmland knows that water collects in spots that aren’t regular water sources for anything else, let alone major streams and rivers.

Prairie potholes are a good example of the “waters” the EPA is targeting. These isolated wetlands are sprinkled across the upper Midwest and Northern Plains. By pooling these isolated features together, the WOTUS rule would let the agencies treat them as a “significant nexus” to streams and rivers – an idea that’s simply not supported by law or common sense. Together, the prairie potholes in a region could be treated just like a large body of water, even though the end result would be more control over land, not water – something that Congress never intended.

Rather than recognizing the careful stewardship that farmers and ranchers practice, EPA keeps forcing farmers and ranchers back on the defensive. McCarthy said farmers shouldn’t worry about the rule at all “unless you want to pollute or destroy jurisdictional water.” Statements like this hint that the agency is looking to broaden the rule by making it more ambiguous, not less.

Farmers and ranchers can’t afford the steep fines that regulators could impose for normal farming practices. And farmers aren’t looking to sidestep regulations. We have the most to lose if one of our most valuable resource is compromised.

EPA claims that it’s simplifying regulations and making them easier to follow, but the fine print tells another story. No matter what name the agency gives its rule, it can only lead to needless pain for agriculture and businesses across the country.

If EPA won’t listen, perhaps Congress will. Please let your senators and representative know that farmers, small business owners and state and local governments are looking to them to stop the WOTUS rule.

Learn more about the American Farm Bureau Federation at fb.org.

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