Utah farm

A pivot in an alfalfa field left dry due to drought conditions in Centerfield on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021.

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Rows of farmers and ranchers in rural Sanpete County are familiar with the late J. Golden Kimball, the “swearin’ elder,” who said “always marry a woman from Sanpete County. No matter what hard times you experience together, she has seen worse.”But Wade and Tina Eliason, who are from Sanpete and have been married for 27 years, said they’ve never seen a drought as severe as the one that’s parched their 700-acre farm in Moroni this year.

“We received about 20% of the water we normally get and produced about 20% of the alfalfa and other feed we normally harvest,” said Wade Eliason, who estimates the monetary value of his crop loss at $300,000 or more.

Eliason can find small consolation that he is not alone. Based on anecdotal evidence, state agriculture officials estimate crop yields are down 20% in much of Utah.

The drought has dried up rivers and drained reservoirs over the past year, hammering farmers across Utah.

For farmers, as well as the state as a whole, the stakes brought on by a lack of rain and snow are high. Agriculture in Utah is a $1.8 billion industry responsible for 2.3% of the state’s gross domestic product, more than 25,000 jobs and more than $320 million in wages. There are 18,400 farms encompassing 10.8 million acres in Utah.

While the final numbers for Utah’s harvest this year won’t be known for weeks, the few numbers that have come in paint a bleak picture.

Winter wheat production in 2021, estimated at 4.51 million bushels, is down 13%, or 7 bushels per acre from the previous year. Barley production, estimated at 729,000 bushels, has dropped 29% and is now the lowest it has been since 1926, according to numbers compiled by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

All told, the U.S. Drought Monitor warns that all of Utah is at least in “severe drought,” with most of the state either still in “extreme” or “exceptional drought.” Moreover, reservoirs at the end of September were at 47 capacity statewide, compared with 67 percent at this time last year.

This article is published through the Utah News Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations in Utah that aim to inform readers across the state. To read the full article, click here.

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