Spring planting is just around the corner, but most farmers in Davis County are not eagerly awaiting this year's growing season.
If Mother Nature doesn't come through in a big way soon, getting enough water to irrigate fields is going to be a long row to hoe."It is scary," said Alan Bangerter, who cultivates 100 acres of vegetable crops in Bountiful, Centerville and Farmington. "It's like saying to you that you'll only get half your paycheck this year."
Layton farmer Dix Roberts agreed. "We don't think we'll have the yields this year that we've had in the past. Our yields will be down about 25 percent. And we're just barely hanging on as it is."
The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District this week announced preliminary plans to cut in half the amount of water delivered to non-culinary users. The plan may change or not be implemented at all, depending on how much precipitation falls between now and mid-April.
For homeowners, the rationing plan would mean watering twice a week on specific days. For farmers, it means they can water their fields for only 48 hours the whole summer.
It is too early to predict what effect the rationing would have on Davis County's agricultural industry, which tops about $25 million a year, said Vic Saunders, spokesman for the Utah Farm Bureau. But farmers will definitely be reviewing their methods, habits and attitudes.
"Farmers are going to have to be a lot more judicious in their use of water," Saunders said. "We sometimes forget that we live in the second-driest state in the country."
The water-rationing announcement already has Roberts making plans to recycle water and plant different varieties of some crops.
"We haven't made use of our runoff water as much as we should have," said Roberts, co-owner of Roberts Bros. Farms. He and his brother will likely build a small reservoir at the bottom of one field to collect irrigation runoff, which will then be used on another field.
Roberts said they are also thinking about planting a type of corn that matures more quickly and, therefore, requires less water.
Aaron Richards, co-owner of Richards Jersey Farm, Farmington, said that with wise planning, his operation will survive with minimal disruption.
He and his son, however, might have to reduce the number of cows they maintain on their farm.
"It's a problem but, golly, I've been farming for years and we've had some dry years." But Richards, 57, admitted that the present five-year drought is the worst since the water district was formed 30 years ago.
Richards said that in addition to the Utah drought, he is concerned about the possibility that the price of Utah hay may increase as a result of increased demand by California farmers, whose water has been cut off completely.
Bangerter said his farming business will survive because of water-saving techniques he already uses. But he might have to give up some early crops, such as radishes, if the water district decides not to turn the system on until May 1. The system is usually turned on April 15.
"It's a little premature to know whether to get frightened. I feel confident we can work it out," said Bangerter. "In 1977, we had restrictions on us . . . and we did OK."
Bangerter said he would feel better if culinary water users were required to make further cutbacks. "I would like to see everybody give some."
And Roberts said he is going to keep his eye on homeowners' use of water in their yards. "It's their beautification. But it's my livelihood."