Utah farmers cope with too much moisture, frost

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Farmers in the nation’s second-driest state are about three weeks behind planting most food crops because of muddy fields from heavy rain and snow, agriculture officials said Friday. And with nighttime temperatures still dipping below 30 degrees, fruit farmers are bracing for damaging frost. “There’s mixed reaction to too much water this time of the year,” said Larry Lewis, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Agriculture. “The good news is reservoirs will be full come later in the season. The bad news is all the moisture is making it difficult for farmers to get out in the fields and plant.” There also have been reports from Box Elder County that mold is developing from all the snow on the ground, he said. “It’s one of the many challenges that farmers and ranchers face every year,” Lewis said. “Too much water is not good. Too little water is not good. Growing our food supply is not an easy task. This just demonstrates how difficult it is for farmers to keep our local supply consistent and safe.” Steve Pettingill, who has more than 100 acres of fruit trees in northern Utah, said the next 30 days will be crucial for his operation. “Apricots are in full bloom now and if it got down to 28 (degrees), it would be hurtful,” he said. “Peaches are coming up. Everything is susceptible if it gets really cold. What we want is a real mild spring.” All the moisture isn’t unusual, “but it’s always scary this time of year,” Pettingill said. Wind machines could help protect the fruit from frost, he said. Farmers in the past also have used heaters or even sprayed water on trees to encase the buds in a protective layer of ice, Lewis said. Those measures aren’t cost-effective at this point, Pettingill said. “I am more worried about energy costs than the frost,” he said. “Everything we do is based on diesel fuel.” A year ago at this time, diesel was $2.80 a gallon. Now it costs $4.20 a gallon. “If it goes to $5 a gallon, I think food is going to be quite expensive,” Pettingill said. The biggest fallout currently from all the moisture is simply a delay in getting crops to market, Lewis said. Some farmers are experimenting with different varieties of corn as a result, he said. Some varieties are 90-day to maturity rather than 120 days. Fruit and vegetable crops are a $500 million industry in Utah, Lewis said.

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