Drought continues to plague Utah's dairymen, farmers and ranchers, according to Deputy Utah Agriculture Commissioner Edison Stephens.

"Feed costs have risen dramatically in the past few months because of the drought conditions in the Midwest and Southeast. Hay, grain and feed supplements are getting more and more expensive," Stephens said, "and most dairy farmers, beef producers and sheepmen are having to take a hard look at their farm operations."It's simply a question of whether to keep on feeding animals or sell them," he said.

"Beef prices are somewhat steady, but they are lower than a year ago and lamb prices are lower than last year's level. If a lot of steers and sheep are sold for slaughter, it will undoubtedly push the prices down even lower."

Stephens said Friday water is as much a problem for farmers in the northern half of Utah as feed prices.

"Springs and wells have dried up. Steams and rivers are at below normal levels. The lack of water could also force a lot of farmers to sell their animals for slaughter."

William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's Salt Lake Forecast Office, says the water year, which ended Friday, was a disaster. Total precipitation for the water year was 9.94 inches at the Salt Lake weather station, less than two-thirds of the normal year's precipitation of 15.31 inches.

Alder said Utah needs at least a normal water year this coming year to replenish the state's reservoirs and wells. "During the past summer, we drew more water from our state's wells than in any other year on record," Alder said.

Stephens said much of the summer range for cattle and sheep has been diminished because of drought, especially in the northern half of the state, where drought conditions have been the worst.

"A great many animals have had to be taken off summer range early because of stunted growth and the lack of plants available for grazing.

"Now ranchers face another big problem - diminished winter range. We are advising ranchers and sheepmen to inspect their allotments of winter range on Bureau of Land Management land to see if there is enough food for their animals to graze on.

"If not, farmers will have to cut down their herd or flock numbers or else find more land for their animals to graze on," Stephens said.

The lack of winter range could force ranchers to sell off sheep and cattle and this will only serve to depress cattle and sheep prices even more, he said.