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Apr 24, 2013 By Steven R. Peck

Fremont County won't say No. 2 in hay production for very long

We are a people interested in lists and rankings, from the TV ratings to the college football poll, from hit records to David Letterman's funny top-10 list five nights a week.

Speaking of Letterman, his top10 Monday night concerned the North Dakota weekend news anchorman who, in his very first words in his very first newscast, said the F bomb and the S swear. Letterman, listing the Top 10 Ways to Realize Your First Day as a TV News Anchor Didn't Go Well, included "No. 8: Weatherman tells you to expect an 80 percent chance of unemployment."

In that vein (rankings, not inept TV anchormen) many longtime observers of the Fremont County agricultural industry were astonished to learn last week that the county had lost its No. 1 position in alfalfa hay production statewide.

Rankings of hay-producing counties in Wyoming won't ever qualify for a late-night talk show's jokefest, but it truly was an astounding thing to hear. Many people, perhaps most people who pay attention, would not have thought it possible for Fremont County to occupy any position other than the top one on the list of hay producers in Wyoming.

But that's what a season of crazy weather will do to a crop.

Think back to last year, when summer weather arrived two months earlier than it normally does, and water restrictions sparked by drought concerns made it exceedingly difficult to grow the typical healthy hay crop. Most growers used to a productive third cutting didn't get it, and some had such poor field conditions by the end of the season that it wasn't even worth trying.

In Goshen County, far to the east of us, conditions were cooler and wetter enough to enable that county to surpass Fremont County as the top alfalfa hay production area in the state in 2012.

This is about a lot more than rankings on a computer printout. The ag economy is of vital importance to our county and our state. When things don't even come close to going according to plan in the biggest irrigated farm district in Wyoming, then there are ripples through the entire economic spectrum -- jobs, prices, taxes, property values, consumer confidence and more.

So say what you will about our wintry April weather this year, but it is setting us up for a much more normal and more productive agricultural season than we had in 2012. Don't get used to that No. 1 hay position, Goshen County. It's an exceedingly good bet that Fremont County will be back on top by the end of the summer.

And that isn't just good for prideful readings of a top-10 list. It's good for all of Wyoming too.

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