Delta farmers try to salvage crops

Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Delta Junction farmers, already struggling with three times the usual amount of rain, woke up to find snow covering their partially-harvested crops.

Last month's rain barely allowed farmers to gather their grains, potatoes or carrots. Sunday's snow dashed hopes for a warm, dry spell to get all the crops in.

''We don't know if it's doomed yet but it's pretty gloomy,'' said potato farmer Lyall Brasier. Brasier said he's only harvested a third of his near 90 acres of potatoes.

The weather has some Delta farmers wondering how they are going to pay loans and feed livestock. Hay and straw crops, which supply Interior horse and sled dog owners, are almost nonexistent. Area feed stores are already looking for alternative sources for hay and straw for their customers.

''I would characterize the hay and straw crop as a disaster this year,'' said Jon Underwood, co-owner of Alaska Feed Store.

Underwood has started shipping hay in from Washington, but says that will triple costs to customers. Usually, he sells 60 pounds of hay for $7 to $8. Now he is selling a 100-pound bale for $25.

Phil Kaspari, an agricultural agent for Delta Cooperative Extension, said he agrees the hay and straw crops are bad, but still holds hope for barley, hay, potatoes and carrots.

Some people will make what is known as hayledge, where hay is cut and wrapped in plastic in small bundles. While it isn't good for horses, cattle can still eat it, he said.

Delta supplies a large portion of straw to Alaska's sled dog owners, said Scott Miller, owner of Misty Mountain Farm. Underwood said a good portion of his business is straw sales.

Miller grows barley and oats to feed his near 225 head of cattle, which he sees running out by Thanksgiving. He uses the stalks for straw, which has been a source of income. He's only been able to harvest half of his crops.

''The other half is lying flat on the ground under the snow,'' Miller said. He has loans payments of nearly $50,000 due this year and is wondering how to pay them.

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