By Ernie Over
It’s that time of year ago when the big irrigation canals in the county are now shut down in preparation for the winter season. The water being diverted from the Big Wind River at Diversion Dam was slowly reduced so the sides of the canals would stay intact. The water is totally shut off now until the next irrigation season.
I live near the Midvale Receiving Station for Wyoming Sugar Company, growers of one of the county’s big crops, Sugar Beets. The beets are still being pulled but that will be done soon, and then the big chore of transloading the beets from the Midvale and Riverton stations to the big sugar refinery in Worland.
On a trip through the Basin a few weeks ago, I motored past that refinery and the huge piles of beets were already filling up the receiving yard there from growers in and around Worland. There’s another sugar refinery up in Lovell, and the sugar beets from the northern Bighorn Basin are arriving there, as well.
Down here in the Wind River Basin, growers are cutting their third round of alfalfa as the season is winding down, corn is being chopped, oats and barley have been combined, and cattle and sheep are coming off of their summer ranges.
Just in case you didn’t know, there are 1,019 farm and/or ranch units in Fremont County with 185,000 acres of irrigated cropland. Total ag production occurs over an area of 2.5 million acres, with grazing, pasture lands and dry land farming.
Just in Wyoming, Fremont County’s production of Hay and Alfalfa production ranks first in the state with around 220,000 tons of alfalfa hay. Our cattle numbers are third in the state with about 60,000 head of beef cattle. That works out to about 6 cows per square mile! We have the fourth largest number of sugar beets with nearly 3,000 acres planted and we are 4th statewide in the production of oats and 5th in barley production. Agriculture is big business here.
One of the best alfalfa fields in the country is here, too. Harlan Fegler’s farm out at Arapahoe consistently ranks in the top of the nation with quality of the product. I visited that farm a few years back to observe the farming practices that create that top quality hay. When the time is right, the alfalfa is cut, all at once with a number of swathers in action, and then when dried, a number of balers get to work and bale it all up. The small hay bales are then tucked away in a protective barn out of the elements. His hay, traditionally, is sent back east to the big horse ranches and feed stores along the east coast. You might’ve have noticed his big hay trucks moving all summer long, delivering the hay and coming back for more.
The county also boasts Wyoming Hay Cubes, which are sent around the country, and are available for the small acreage rancher from the local feed stores.
And we have potatoes and dry beans and a growing number of truck farms, that serve our farmer’s markets. Riverton can now lay claim to a totally local food store, in the 500 block of main. Fremont Local Foods is a dream come true for many local producers who can now sell their products and make money here at home, without going through a middleman.
What all this means is that we also have a lot of ag support companies around, implement dealers, fertilizer companies, Center-pivot irrigation suppliers, oil and fuel jobbers, hardware companies and farm and ranch supply companies, lumber yards and the list goes on.
Ernie Over is an employee owner and the news director of the five-station WyoTodayMedia Radio Network in Fremont and Hot Springs counties, the editor of the award winning Wyotoday.com Internet news site, and a staff member of The Ranger, Lander Journal and Wind River News