TWIN FALLS — With an apparent abundance of irrigation water for next year, Jim Patrick won’t need to change his crop rotation.
“I try to keep the same rotation,” said Patrick, a farmer who also represents Jerome and part of Twin Falls counties as a Republican state senator.
For him, a rotation means silage corn, alfalfa, malted barley and sugar beets.
If growers anticipated a dry year, they would be growing more acres of grain corn, barley, wheat or dry beans, he said.
Some of those crops aren’t paying much.
“Corn, barley and wheat prices have taken a downturn,” said Craig Kelley, manager of Rangen’s commodity division in Twin Falls.
Grain corn “is at a very low price,” Patrick said. “It’s hard to make any money off it.”
In general, growers want to stay within their normal rotation, said Steve Hines, University of Idaho Extension educator in Jerome. It’s important for soil health, nutrition and erosion control.
“Most growers are tuned into what they will be growing,” Hines said. “Crops are generally planned out three or four years into the future. As long as there is water, everything falls in line.”
And water doesn’t look like an issue next year, he said. “It looks like the reservoirs have plenty of carryover — at least for 2018.”
The Upper Snake River system is 86 percent full, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Palisades Reservoir is 96 percent full and Lake Walcott is 94 percent full. Jackson Lake in Wyoming is at 77 percent.
But if a decent mountain snowpack doesn’t form over the winter, irrigation could suffer in 2019, Hines said. But he’s keeping his fingers crossed for luck.
“A wet January and February can make up for a dry December,” he said.
Other factors that can affect the decision-making process are crop diseases and pest pressure. So far, Hines has received a lot of calls about voles.
“Producers need to keep an eye on alfalfa, winter cereals and pasture,” he said. “Voles can be very damaging to a pasture.”
While few problems stand out, the general outlook “is not wonderful,” Hines said.
Idaho growers operate nearly 12 million acres of farm ground, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Milk prices are low, and if prices stay down, dairymen may cull cows for the beef market, which could bring down the price of beef cattle.