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Western Nevada farmers optimistic about growing season thanks to strong Sierra snowpack

Two tractors are parked in an open dirt field, with a small amount of snow on the ground. The sun is setting.
Courtesy of Fulstone Co.
Fulstone Co. in Smith Valley is one hay farm in Western Nevada that saw its production drop last year due to the drought.

The Sierra Nevada’s elevated snowpack has been embraced by many people in the region. That includes farmers, who are working to bounce back from consecutive drought years. KUNR business reporter Kaleb Roedel spoke to one local farmer to learn more.

Steven Fulstone, who runs a hay farm tucked in Smith Valley, has scaled back his acreage by about 20% in recent years due to drought. This cuts into the amount of hay his farm is able to produce and sell each year. In fact, last year, his production was down 30% compared to 2020.

“That’s how we make money, is by selling either bale products, hay products,” Fulstone says. “Your tonnage goes down, your numbers go down, it’s a direct correlation to the amount of water that is available to you.”

Fulstone, however, says farmers in Nevada, one of the driest states in the country, are accustomed to combating revenue shortfalls.

“You don’t buy equipment. You don’t fix the house’s roof,” he says. “There’s things that you do to mitigate this over time. But eventually, it can catch up to you.”

That’s why Fulstone breathed a sigh of relief when snowstorms blanketed the region over the holidays. Last month was the snowiest December on record in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which saw 18 feet of snow.

So far, the snowpack through the central Sierra is about 130% of the average, according to the Walker Basin Conservancy. Peter Stanton, the agency’s director, says Western Nevada was experiencing one of the driest 18-month periods on record prior to last month’s storms.

“The soil has been drier, historically dry,” Stanton says. “And from irrigators to conservationists to folks like us who are working to save Walker Lake, we were all rejoicing to see those storms come to fruition.”

Stanton says the recent increase in soil moisture means that any precipitation that comes later this winter and spring will be more effective than in years past.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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