Lovelock Farmers Benefit From Wet Winter - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Lovelock Farmers Benefit From Wet Winter

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This year's winter storms brought the best snowpack numbers since 2011, and that is giving Nevada's farmers a boost. The water runoff is a welcome site, in Lovelock, where farmers haven't received any irrigation for the last two years. This year, they are hoping for 1.5 feet of water, which is half of the normal allotment of three feet.  Many farmers are planting crops for the first time in three years.

"Everybody in this valley is very excited," Mike Phillips, Farm Manager and Vice President of Nevada Nile Ranch said. "It's good to be back to work. The adrenaline's flowing again."

Four years of drought has had a huge impact on the town of about 1,900 people. The lack of water has left farmers with no choice but to lay workers off, shrinking Lovelock's economy and population.

"This community has been hurting since the drought," Phillips said. "Probably several hundred people have gone unemployed throughout."

The layoffs mean fewer students in the Pershing County School District, which leads to less state funding. Fewer workers means less money is being spent and re-invested into the community. Water could help improve that situation. The outlook for this summer is much better. 

Phillips has already added employees, thanks to higher water flows. 

"So far, we've probably employed six to eight people, right now," Phillips said. "I think water will help this community with population."

While half of their water allocations aren't usually much to cheer about, it is a huge improvement over what they have received over the last three years.

"This is probably the happiest I've been in three years. It really is," Bennie Hodges, Manager of the Pershing County Water Conservation District said. "Fifty percent, in some eyes, is not a good start but I'm ecstatic about it. We're pretty excited compared to what it has been, previously. We would like to get more but it's a start. It's a beginning."

Water is flowing through irrigation ditches for the first time since 2013, when farmers only received about three inches of water, just 10% of their normal allotment. Lovelock depends on the Humboldt River for its irrigation, but flows were very low over the past four years, because of lack of snow in northeastern Nevada. Despite this year's average to above-average snowpack levels, Hodges says it will take a few more full water years to get agriculture back to normal in the Lovelock Valley.

"That river system has been so dry for so long that there's got to be a lot of groundwater recharge that has to take place to improve the flow down the river," Hodges said.

Farmers are taking a methodical approach, this year.  Alfalfa normally fills the valley, but the uncertainty of water allocations in the coming years has some switching to alternative crops. Phillips is planting corn on about 1,400 acres, which he plans to sell as cattle feed to dairies in Fallon. If more water becomes available, he could still plant about 1,000 acres of alfalfa.

"If you plant alfalfa, it's good for five or six years," Phillips said. "Corn is an annual, so if we run short of water, next year, we haven't wasted all that money."

Farmers have already started seeding their fields, which is expected to be a big change from last year, when fields were left bare and ditches were overrun with weeds.

"We're going to see some green in the valley, we haven't seen, instead of weeds and dust and the ditches full of tumble weeds," Hodges said. "At least we'll have some water in them."

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