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Wet spring raises odds for farmers

At about 10:30 p.m. Monday, farmer Rich Fisher of Cox and Fisher Inc. heads back to his tractor as he preps a Lane 10 field for a crop of sugar beets west of Powell. Fisher, who said the weather has put him about three weeks behind schedule, planned to call it quits around midnight. At about 10:30 p.m. Monday, farmer Rich Fisher of Cox and Fisher Inc. heads back to his tractor as he preps a Lane 10 field for a crop of sugar beets west of Powell. Fisher, who said the weather has put him about three weeks behind schedule, planned to call it quits around midnight. Tribune photo by CJ Baker

The people tossing big money onto 21 tables in Vegas? Pikers.

Poker players eyeing their opponents over mounds of chips? Small timers.

Slot-machine fiends pumping fortunes into the one-armed bandits? Amateurs.

If you want to meet gamblers who really toss around large stacks of cash, look for the guy in the worn cap, with the dirty overalls and mud-encrusted boots. These are people who know the meaning of taking a risk.

This spring, the players who go to work on tractors, not limos, are seeing once again what it’s like when the fates are against you. A long winter and a sodden spring have left them well behind in their planting, according to Sandra “Frosty” Frost, a University of Wyoming Extension crops educator based in Powell.

“Every man is going to make their own decision,” Frost said Monday. “It’s all about risk management.”

She said the wet conditions have knocked farmers off schedule and that will likely have an impact on their harvest, even after a warming trend last week helped dry fields and allowed more work to be completed. Unless there is an extended warm late summer and fall, harvest levels may be reduced, the Extension educator predicted.

“We’re about two weeks behind the normal, average starting time of everything,” Frost said.

Sugar beets will be the most-impacted crop, she said. They should have been planted by now but many farmers just could not get into their fields.

Just 7 percent of sugar beets had been planted in the state as of Sunday, according to a United States Department of Agriculture crop progress report, compiled with the assistance of the state Department of Agriculture, that was issued Monday. That’s better than last year, when just 4 percent was in at the same point, but less than half of the 15 percent five-year average.

Other crops also were behind. Barley was at 36 percent compared to 67 percent at this time in 2013 and a five-year average of 65 percent. Only 5 percent of the barley had emerged, compared to 10 percent last year and 16 percent over the previous five-year period.

Frost said that crop is not a concern.

“Barley is a cool-season grain,” she said. “There is a lot of time to take advantage of it. It can germinate in cool temperatures.”

It’s “too early, too cool” for beans and sunflowers to be planted, Frost said.

Sugar beet producers cannot decide to switch to another crop, she said.

“Sugar beets is a contract crop,” Frost said. “They have shares and pledged to grow a certain number of acres.”

She said it’s too late for farmers to switch seed to a shorter-season crop. Seeds are ordered in December and have been produced and delivered. Even if farmers wanted to switch, they likely could not, Frost said.

“There is no spare seed,” she said.

Linda Schwope, who farms with her husband Mike by Cowley, said they have noticed a flurry of beet planting in recent days.

“They like to get started April 1,” said Linda, who turned 69 on Wednesday. “That’s the plan anyway. There’s no doubt they’re behind.”

But Frost said the farmers, like poker players drawing on an inside straight, could still come up winners. A long, dry, warm fall could give beets enough time to reach a good weight and sugar content.

“It all depends on the weather,” she said.

Farmer Rich Fisher of Cox and Fisher Inc. was out on a tractor late Monday night, working to ready a sugar beet field for planting west of Powell. Fisher said he was roughly three weeks behind schedule.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said of the poor weather.

Frost has worked in the area for seven years and said while this has been a difficult winter and spring, it’s not unprecedented.

“2011 was also very wet,” she said.

There is some good news coming out of the wet spring. Range and pastureland is considered to be 57 percent good to excellent, compared to 11 percent at this time last year and 46 percent over a five-year period.

— Tribune reporter CJ Baker contributed to this report.

Crop Progress Graphic - Source: USDASource: USDA

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