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April 01, 2014 7:27 am

Farmers need run of dry conditions to get crops in

Written by Tom Lawrence

Curtis Bjornestad chisel plows a field northeast of Powell Saturday evening. Bjornestad said he could use a run of dry weather to get his crops planted. Curtis Bjornestad chisel plows a field northeast of Powell Saturday evening. Bjornestad said he could use a run of dry weather to get his crops planted. Tribune photo by Tom Lawrence

It’s not just hay you have to make when the sun shines.

Many farmers in the Big Horn Basin chased sunset this weekend as they tried to catch up on field work. They’ve lost time to a stubborn winter and a slow-to-emerge spring.

“It’s late, really late,” Curtis Bjornestad said Saturday as he took a brief break from operating a chisel plow on a 35-acre field northeast of Powell.

Bjornestad plans to put beans into the field, but he said the ground needs a break from the persistent moisture before he can plant. A week or 10 days without snow or rain would allow him to get the crop in, he said.

Bjornestad has been farming for 11 years, and he said the long winter of 2013-14 and the late spring are unlike anything he has dealt with so far.

Rory Karhu, a district conservationist at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Powell, said farmers with heavier soil, primarily located north of Powell, are finding it difficult to get crops planted.

Most sugar beets, sunflowers, beans and corn fields are still waiting for seed to be planted, Karhu said. However, since barley is commonly planted early in the season, much of that crop is in the ground, he said.

“They always plant that early, once the frost is out,” Karhu said. “They had those fields worked up. And they put that in right at the top — they don’t have to go as deep.”

Axel Garcia y Garcia, an assistant professor and irrigation specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences who works at the University of Wyoming Research and Extension Service, said the problem has been the fact that snow or rain falls after a few nice days.

“Basically, that’s what’s going on,” Garcia y Garcia said. “It’s a little bit different than normal.”

He said soggy conditions have farmers waiting and watching. They need a good “week to 10 days” of dry conditions so they can prepare their fields and then plant, Garcia y Garcia said.

So far, the season hasn’t gotten so late that farmers are being forced to switch to shorter-season crops. But if the rain and snow persists, that will become an option many will be forced to explore, he said.

Bjornestad still had a smile as he halted his tractor and took a short break Saturday evening. It was a pleasant day, with a bright blue sky and the field was taking shape.

His wife Erin was waiting for him in a pickup parked on the edge of the field and she took a ride with him in his John Deere tractor after they answered a few questions. Erin said they just want the weather to break.

“Supposed to get more snow this weekend,” she said, shaking her head at the thought.

But things might be taking a turn for the better. The National Weather Service is forecasting warmer and dry weather for the next several days, with highs in the 50s and little chance of rain and snow.

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