Oregon Producers Start Crop Year In Drought

May 14, 2021  | 6 min  | Ep4639

Just about every indicator of drought is flashing red across the West. Reservoirs are being drawn down, river levels are dropping and soils are drying out ... and it’s only May.

The Departments of Interior and Agriculture are preparing for a fire season that is a year-round issue as wildland blazes are burning longer and hotter.

I spoke with 6th-generation producer Denver Pugh, from his western Oregon farm in Shedd about the coming growing season.

Dan Pugh/Shedd, Oregon Producer: “We are behind on average rainfall. It came in early last fall, which was always nice, but then went away about late winter. which usually we get a a two week window break in February. And that's right about the time for us to put on our first application of fertilizer but then it rains again, washes in and then and then we usually get a little bit of a dry spell in April. But then we always hope we get the rains coming back in May to help finish the crop. And it's been relatively dry since about the second week of March. So we are we're definitely looking at our drought situation right now. We did have a little bit of a shower come through over the weekend. It was Saturday, Friday night and Saturday night we had a little bit of shower we had about three quarters of an inch which is nice for the spring planting crops but it's not near what we need to carry things through or summer I'm really hoping through the month of May into about the second week of June. Hopefully we can get the least another two inches rainfall. If we can't get it in that timeframe. Our yields are definitely going to suffer so but right now yeah, right now I'm looking at partly blue skies. Yeah, and a nice slight little breeze so..”

Paul Yeager: “Well the Drought Monitor, the Drought Monitor says in the way I look at the map you're in the D1 category to them it says some fields are left fallow water levels begin to decline, recreation and other uses impacted. Now soon if you get into D2, which you're kind of on that area. Pastures are brown hay yields are down. Prices are up producers are selling cattle. Again accurate?”

Dan Pugh/Shedd, Oregon Producer: “Yes, no, I agree with all of that. So um, it's funny is I am in a predominantly dry land area. You know, we don't not many of us have irrigation but over the last 10 or 15 years, you're starting to see more and more wells being put in. Yeah, pivots going up. There's in my area that's like which is used to be kind of unheard of. And maybe one day I'll jump on board. But right now I just I'm still, I'm still praying for my rain.”

Paul Yeager: “You're dry land producers, so no irrigation, no pivots, like you said, you don't get to sixth generation if that's not been a successful plan. I mean, obviously, the rain has fallen from the sky over time to keep your family operational.”

Dan Pugh/Shedd, Oregon Producer: “Exactly. And, and really another thing that helps is my diversification, you know, I'm not growing just one species of grass, you know, I've got four different species of grasses are producing plus the other four rotational crops, and all of them determine all of them depend upon rainfall, but all of them have a certain requirement different requirements for rainfall and, and then the pricing structure is different on on each one of those So, so basically, yeah, if I, if we have a drought here, and yield suffer, well, using price can correct for, you know, to, to make me back, back in line financially, what I need to be to survive. So. So yeah, so usually, in less we have multi-year drought. I usually feel fairly comfortable. So, I mean, the irrigation thing would be nice, I'm not gonna lie, it has thought crossed my mind that I do. I need to be following suit, putting in punching in wells or trying to find it, find the water rights. And they'll do it. It's getting harder to do it. And, you know, one thought was, maybe maybe I better jump on board now before I can't do it anymore. But, but like you noticed, noted. Sixth generation of doing this without irrigation. Yeah. I mean, I guess that's not forefront of my mind. It is in the back of mind for sure. But it's not something I'm going to run out there and go do?”

Paul Yeager: “How would you rate the needs of an Oregon producer versus other states needs for water? And how ramped up has it become in the last 10 to 15 years?”

Dan Pugh/Shedd, Oregon Producer: “Boy, how do you answer it without sounding arrogant? Um, because, yeah, I want to say that we are very important, you know, we need our water and we do you know, but do livestock producers, you know, that rely on water to water their pastures, so they have food for their cattle? Do they need it more? Probably. So I'm not going to deny that you know, so there are other areas and states that definitely need more water usage than what I need here. But at the same time, we all kind of rely on each other, you know, if they can't use cattle or how marketable product, you know, or get their product to market. Well, they're not going to buy my product to help feed their next generation, you know, so we definitely rely on each other. So it's it's almost, you know, all right, what came first chicken or egg? You know, who gets it know who deserves it better? That's a, that's a tough question.” 

Dan Pugh is this week’s MToM podcast guest. Watch the full interview on our YouTube page of Market to Market. New episodes are released each Tuesday. 

Contact: Paul.Yeager@iowapbs.org 

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