It’s a catch-22, from the perspective of local irrigation-supply companies.
For the farmers and ranchers they service, snow is desperately needed this winter to provide ample soil moisture for planting crops in the spring.
Coming off a record-dry year and being bombarded with long-term weather forecasts that call for more of the same, Weld County producers are spending thousands of dollars to improve their irrigation systems so they can make the most of what could be limited water next growing season.
“It’s definitely been a busy fall,” said Vic Fiscus, general manager at Valley Irrigation Supply near Greeley, Colo., whose comments were echoed by other operators of local irrigation-supply companies in Weld County. “So far we’ve been able to get a lot of work done, because of the nice weather.
“We’re doing as much as we can now, because it’s looking like we’re going to be awfully busy ... based on the amount of calls we’ve already gotten.”
Irrigation-supply company managers said the bulk of the requests are for the installation of pivot-sprinkler systems to go on acres currently under flood irrigation, which is a less-efficient use of water.
It’s not a cheap endeavor for farmers, though.
Sources, including Colorado State University Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, estimate installing a center-pivot system can cost about $1,000 per acre, maybe more.
For local crop growers — like Lynn Fagerberg near Eaton, Colo., who’s talking with Valley Irrigation Supply about installing a center-pivot system on one of his 60-acre plots — that can add up quickly.
It comes down to an expensive decision: Spend thousands of dollars now to upgrade, or leave your irrigation system as it is and, if it stays dry, risk losing some of your crop because you couldn’t stretch your water far enough.
Fagerberg and others say, however, now is a good time to upgrade.
Although this year’s drought limited some crop production, commodity prices were high enough to make up for the losses and helped producers end the year with an average income, or better.
And 2012 followed the record farm-income years 2010 and 2011.
Additionally, loan-interest rates are currently low, making borrowing easier for farmers.
“If you have to do it, now’s not a bad time,” Fagerberg said.
December is always a time for spending money for farmers.
By this time of the year, they’ve collected money on the crops they harvested in the fall.
Local truck and implement dealerships say November and December often are their best months. During the last couple years, many of those businesses reported some of their best Decembers on record, due to the upswing in farm incomes.
Even though many farmers are spending big bucks on irrigation upgrades this fall, and farm income didn’t reach the levels this year it did in previous years, those business are still seeing plenty of activity right now, they said.
“Honestly, I think I’m even busier now than I was last year,” said Randy Walter, a salesman at G&M Implement in Greeley.
Fagerberg said, “Every year you have to upgrade that equipment as well,” referring to machinery from implement dealerships. “You fall behind in the spring if you don’t.
“I just think guys are seeing the writing on the wall that spending on irrigation is a must this year, probably as much as ever.” ❖