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Making tough decisions: Southwest Montana farmers and ranchers forge through drought

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drought

Tim Feddes turns off a sprinkler dangling from a center pivot at his farm outside Manhattan, Montana, on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.

The last time Dave Pruitt saw drought conditions worse than now was back in the 1930s — the decade when the West Gallatin River went dry multiple times, he said.

Pruitt has lived in the Gallatin Valley his entire life, and he grows hay on a farm west of Four Corners. He previously served as a water commissioner, mediating water rights along the West Gallatin River.


So far this year, Pruitt’s hay crops have produced about half of what his land normally produces by this time, and he’s not alone. A region-wide hay shortage is driving up demand for the crop, and prices.

drought

Tim Feddes stands in high grass near the Moreland Ditch canal, one of the canals he pumps water from to irrigate hay and wheat fields on his farm outside Manhattan, Montana, on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.

drought

Tim Feddes walks over the furthest reach of a center pivot irrigation system at his farm outside Manhattan, Montana, on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. Feddes usually waters the corners of a field not reached by the pivot sprinkler with a hand water line but has had trouble keeping up with the dry weather.

drought

The Low Line canal runs dry south of Manhattan, Montana, on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, after having been shut off due to low water availability.

drought

The Low Line canal runs dry south of Manhattan on July 6 after having been shut off due to low water availability.

drought

Joe and Lori Martinez walk across the Gallatin River on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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