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With Low Stream Flows and Hot Temperatures Farmers Along Gallatin River Worry About Crop Production

Wheat field in Manhattan
Olivia Weitz
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Due to high temperatures and low water supply, farmer Kurtis Dykema says his wheat crop is not as "full and thick" as he would like.

Farmers along the Gallatin River are getting their irrigation waters cut off amid low stream flows and hot temperatures. For some, it’s starting to hurt crop production.

Dried up canals in the late summer are not unusual for Manhattan, Montana based-farmer Kurtis Dykema. But this year, one of his canals was turned off earlier than he’s used to.

“It was cut off the Fourth of July this year,” Dykema says.

Dykema turned on a well that he’s been using ever since. But, it’s not enough to water all if his crops, so he had to chose.

“The crops on the canal that got turned off are alfalfa, spring wheat, winter wheat, corn and potatoes,” Dykema says.

He stopped watering the wheat. Dykema’s water right gives him a certain amount of time to use it to water his crops. But, if water levels in the river are low, those who have older, more senior water rights get priority.

Currently, if your water right is 1883 or older you can divert water for irrigation from the Gallatin River according to Walt Sales, President of the Association of Gallatin Agricultural Irrigators.

“This quickness of how those cuts have moved forward and the depth of how far we are now has been noticed by a lot of ditches that probably would have been into September before they would have been cut,” Sales explains.

Rain this past week brought some relief. But Sales and Dykema expect that as harvest ramps up, farmers will continue running wells and that won’t be enough to cover all the crops.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.