Effects of Late-Season Water Lease on Forage Crops

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2013: $24,950.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Jodi Pauley
Montana State University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: general hay and forage crops, grass (misc. perennial), hay


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: irrigation, application rate management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: soil physics

    Proposal abstract:

    Over-allocation of irrigation water from streams is a common problem in western Montana, and it is acute in the Upper Clark Fork basin. State and Federal agencies are offering to lease or purchase irrigation water rights in the Clark Fork basin to increase instream flows for cold-water fisheries. Often, proposed leases or purchases focus only on the "late-season" (August-September) time period when water shortages are most critical. This mechanism provides a payment to the ranch for "foregone production" - usually the second hay cutting. But no research has been done on the effects of this late-season leasing on the long-term productivity and vigor of the forage crop itself. This project will investigate the impact of late-season water leases on crop production, soil moisture and plant vigor over a period of several years.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1) Demonstrate late-season water leasing on three ranches in Deer Lodge County and develop outreach programs that promote this tool by bringing together agricultural producers to evaluate its agronomic and economic viability for irrigated hay and pasture crops.

    2) Evaluate the physical (soil and water) and agronomic effects, over time, of withholding irrigation water from alfalfa hay and grass pasture for two months at the end of the irrigation season (August-September).

    3) Evaluate the economic effects of late-season water leasing on hay and forage production and production costs under various scenarios, considering lease prices as a variable.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.