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Weather dampens yield in '97 for N. Utah farmers

Hail storms, monsoonal rains and a cool spring have made 1997 a rough year for northern Utah farmers, said state agricultural experts and farmers.

"This has been the hardest one, as far as hay goes," said Lyman Barker, a farmer in North Ogden.A cool spring and a few untimely monsoons in late summer made it difficult to start crops at one end of the season and to harvest them at the other.

Apple, pear and corn growers will suffer the worst losses statewide, according to figures from the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

Northern Utah's hay growers, like Barker, say they're having their worst hay year ever, but hay is expected to do pretty well statewide, figures show.

Overall, Utah farmers are expected to yield 2.29 million tons of alfalfa, a 5 percent increase over last year, and 341,000 tons of other hay, a 1 percent increase.

Right now, state projections show wheat, barley and oats are expected to have slightly better yields this year than last, although experts expect very little from northern Utah to be of premium quality because of weather damage.

But the state forecast doesn't include August and September's monsoons, so projections could change, officials said.

Rain that devastated Northern Utah's harvest was good news in other parts of the state, said Larry Lewis, the state agency's spokesman.

"The rain was a blessing for the dry-land farmers, like the San Juan County farmers," Lewis said. "It was a mixed bag. You got some damage, but it still helped somebody."

The statewide result probably is the reason Northern Utah farmers haven't been successful in gaining federal aid for crop destruction, Lewis said.

After cutting, alfalfa and hay must lie in the fields to dry for five to seven days before being baled. This year, it seemed to rain every time farmers cut it. Wet hay isn't as nutritious for cattle and horses.

"Usually, about a quarter of it gets rained on. This year, we're lucky if we had a quarter that didn't get rained on," said James Barnhill, the Utah State University Extension Office agriculture agent for Weber County.

The rains have prevented Barker from selling any of the 130 acres of hay he planted. He keeps most of it to feed his 60 head of dairy cattle over the winter.

July hail storms also flattened his 12-acre field of oats and battered 40 percent of his 15-acre wheat crop.