Iowa Public Television


Farmers Dump Irrigation For Cash

posted on July 6, 2001

Hot dry conditions and the expectation those conditions will persist into next week pushed grain and oil seed futures prices sharply higher. But ranchers and farmers in the Northwest are more concerned about the survival of crops and livestock.

While ranchers in the worst case can move livestock off the range and sell earlier, farmers are struggling to manage a dwindling supply of irrigation water and the rising costs of pumping it onto fields. In some cases farmers have been cut off from supplies to maintain minimum stream flows for fish. In drought-stricken Idaho, the pressure of water and energy demands have forged an unusual arrangement.


Nearly 440 irrigators in southern Idaho have agreed to turn off their pumps in return for a check. Idaho Power Company will pay the growers a total of $79 (M) million to idle irrigation on some 154,000 acres.

The Boise-based utility thinks it's smarter to pay the growers up to 15 cents a kilowatt hour for power, which it can divert to other customers. The other, more expensive, option would be to pay 30 cents or more on the wholesale market to meet the needs of those other customers.

Idaho Power is heavily dependent on hydroelectric systems for its energy source, and the drought has forced the company to turn to the wholesale market -- a market made more volatile by California's energy crunch.

Further west, federal officials are calling for back-up to help shut water off to about 14-hundred farmers and ranchers in Southern Oregon's Klamath Basin.

In April the Bureau of Reclamation ordered the shut off to protect the endangered bottom-feeding sucker fish and the threatened coho salmon.

Three times in the past week angry farmers have pried open the gates of the federal irrigation project and released water into irrigation canals.

Tags: agriculture farmers money news water