MINDEN, Nev. (AP) - In the more than half century that they've been growing crops in the Carson Valley, Andy Aldax and Fred Stodieck don't ever remember seeing the East Fork of the Carson River bone dry like it is now.
"I don't think I remember a drought as bad as this one," said Aldax, 78, who has been raising hay on the family farm near Minden all his life. "There was no winter."
"This is probably the worst," added Stodieck, 67, whose family has ranched and farmed near Gardnerville since 1868.
"I've seen bad years, but never this much trouble keeping water going down the river," he told the Record-Courier of Gardnerville.
Farmers and ranchers say the extended drought across much of the Midwest and West is taking a toll on agriculture throughout Nevada - from Douglas County hay growers in the west, to Elko County cattlemen in the northeast.
"Because of the drought, we're probably going to have lower cattle numbers than we've ever experienced in many, many years," said Ron Torell, vice president of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association.
Dry conditions have had a noticeable impact in Elko County where a shortage of hay for feed is forcing ranchers to sell livestock ahead of schedule, Torell told the Elko Daily Free Press.
"Almost everybody is selling early this year because of the lack of feed - everything's pushed up 30 days," Torell said, noting cattle are typically sold there between October and December.
In the Carson Valley, 50 miles south of Reno, Stodieck estimates overall hay production is down about a third from normal.
"Everybody's hay is down about a third of normal," he said. "Most everybody is out of water now. Those with older water rights are being served."
Julian Larrouy, federal water master for the East Fork of the Carson River, said it's the worst he's seen in 23 years on the job.
"The whole Valley is suffering," he said. "We've had a hard time getting water down the river because it's so dry. We lose a lot in evaporation and low flows. More of it is going into the ground. It's very difficult."
If there's another dry winter, "we'll really be in trouble," Larrouy said.
In addition to raising 125 cattle and harvesting up to 1,000 tons of hay in a typical year, Stodieck leases land to seed garlic growers.
They should begin the summer harvest in the next week or so, but Stodieck doubts there will be enough water for them to plant in the fall for an early spring crop.
"This last storm left one-tenth of an inch in the water gauge," he said. "That's barely enough to keep the dust down."
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