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Drought is responsible for declining crop production in state; the future is uncertain

Heather Kim/NPR

Wyoming’s crop production mostly declined last year, and according to experts, it is largely because of drought and the inflation of goods making it more expensive to farm.

Wyoming is not necessarily a haven for growing things – there is a lot of desert, it is pretty dry and at a high elevation – but, there are farmers in the state that depend on their crop yields for a source of income.

“Wyoming producers are very hardy souls,” said Leslee Lohrenz, the state statistician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Production declined in 2022 for barley, sugar beets, dry edible beans, corn for grain and winter wheat, according to the USDA Crop Production Annual Summary.

“Some impact may have been seen from input costs, the raising costs may have had some producers reconsidering how much they planted, but the main contributor was the drought,” Lohrenz said.

Currently, much of the state is either in moderate to severe drought, and parts of southeast Wyoming are in extreme drought. In fact, the West is largely in a 23-year-long megadrought. Unfortunately, experts suggest a fruitful winter may not be enough to relieve the pains of the drought.

All but two of the 19 basins in the state have surpassed 100 percent median snowpack this winter. But, according to a recent KUNC story, snowpack numbers can be deceiving as they are relative to numbers in recent years, which have seen significantly less snow than 30 years ago. Additionally, the soil is increasingly dry, so it acts like a sponge and soaks up a lot of snow runoff, before it can enter water systems.

Lohrenz said it is complicated to predict how production will fare this year in relation to this year’s wet winter.

“I can't say, it kind of depends on precipitation and what Mother Nature throws at us,” Lohrenz said.

But, if drought plays a role in crop production, it is possible the state could continue to see declining trends. Lohrenz said even just one year of production declines is hard on farmers.

“They have less of the product to sell, there may be less of a supply for feed if they're producing any commodities to feed their livestock,” she said.

Notably, there were a couple crops that had higher production last year, like hay and alfalfa seedlings.

“If you look back at 2021, we were actually down significantly in both hay and alfalfa production there,” she said. “So I think that slight increase, or some of the increase could be attributed to having lower production in 2021.”

Across the country, corn and soybean production declined in 2022, as well.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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