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Local farmers, ranchers on pace for a banner year
by JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 12/17/11

Like most Klamath Basin farmers, Bob and Christy Flowers benefited from strong commodity prices this year. Increasing expenses like fuel and fertilizer, however, cut into profits, Bob said.

This was a banner year for Klamath Basin agriculture, a $300 million industry and a driver of the local economy.

Farmers and ranchers had a full allocation of irrigation water and benefited from strong prices for the Basin’s staple commodities, like beef, hay, wheat potatoes and dairy products.

The price of beef, the Basin’s largest commodity, was up almost 27 percent from this time last year. The price of alfalfa hay was up almost 68 percent and wheat was up more than 20 percent, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service.

“This year was the year to be in it,” said Bob Flowers, a local farmer and president of the Klamath-Lake County Farm Bureau.

The strong market helped farmers bounce back from 2010. A drought last year left irrigators with about half of their allotment of water and forced many to idle land, lease fields outside the Basin or pay large electric bills to pump well water.

“We rely on the good years to get us through the bad ones,” said Willie Riggs, agriculture economist with Oregon State University’s Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center.

Total Klamath County farm sales this year could reach $300 million, up from about $220 million last year, Riggs said. Farm sales haven’t been this strong since 2008, a watermark year for the Basin, he said.

Expenses up too

Increasing farm sales, however, didn’t directly translate to big profits for all farmers this year, as expenses grew too. The price of farmers’ and ranchers’ biggest inputs, like fuel, fertilizer and labor, spiked this year, said Flowers, who farms grain, alfalfa and a little corn south of Klamath Falls. When you’re using 20,000 gallons of diesel a year, a small increase in the price of fuel can make a huge difference, he said.

Looking for snow

Irrigators are already looking ahead to next year, hoping for abundant snow this winter to provide ample irrigation water in the spring.

Meteorologists predict a La Niña affect will bring higherthan-average snowfall and lower-than-average temperatures this winter. So far, however, little snow has accumulated in the Basin.

It’s probably too early to worry about the snowpack, but irrigators want to see more precipitation soon, Riggs said.
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