The drought in Colorado continues to intensify, with nearly 15% of the state experiencing Exceptional Drought, the highest drought rating, 32% is in Extreme Drought and 61% is suffering from Severe Drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. The entire Four Corners Region is in extreme to exceptional drought with exception of the Chuska mountains, Conditions are unlikely to change in the near term, because the National Weather Service long range forecast is predicting that drought conditions will persist into mid summer. In response to drought and low water supplies, water managers have significantly curtailed irrigation water allocations for farmers and ranchers, dryland farmers are reconsidering what they’ll plant this spring, and many ranchers are setting up drought contingency plans. Barring a miracle of nature, all of us who live in the Region will have to adapt to limited water supplies. Home owners also need to plan for a dry summer concerning their lawns and gardens. Colorado State University Extension and turf grass specialists recommend that grass should be cut to no less than three to four inches in height and that only a third of the leaves of the growing grass should be cut at anyone time. Water should be applied with deep infrequent watering to the depth of the root system. Generally, the root system of grasses are about the same length as the top growth, so continually mowing grass down to an inch and a half doesn’t allow grass to grow root systems that are tolerant of dry conditions. Experts suggest that when the grass doesn’t spring back after it’s walked it should be watered, but if water supplies are very short, home owners should consider applying water to shrubs and trees, which cost much more to replace than grass.
Cattle are are often cast as villains in global warming, said to produce about 78% of total livestock emissions. But a research team, led by Colorado State University and funded by the Climate and Land Use Alliance, found that growing bigger cows at a faster rate and increasing soil and plant carbon sequestration on grazed lands could reduce emissions by as much as 50% in the U.S. and Brazil. The study, “Reducing Climate Impacts of Beef Production: A synthesis of life cycle assessments across management systems and global regions,” was recently published in the journal, Global Change Biology. The research team found that using carbon sequestration management strategies on grazed lands, including organic soil amendments and restoring trees and perennial vegetation to areas of degraded forests, woodlands and riverbanks produced a 46% reduction in GHG emissions. This study appears to point out that emissions from cattle are more a problem husbandry, not that cattle are inherently more prone to emitting GHGs than other livestock.
President Biden’s infrastructure plan has been getting a lot of scrutiny lately with much of the discussions concerning urban renewal like repairing bridges going into cities and fixing problems with transportation. But rural America may see some benefits from the proposed two trillion dollar plan. At this stage, it calls for spending $100 billion on rural broadband, $20 billion repairing rural highway bridges, $10 billion for rural and tribal water systems, $5 billion for the rural partnership program and $2 billion to invest in USDA rural housing loans.
After the history-making blizzard on Colorado’s Front Range and some good wet snow fall in the Four Corners Region, some folks think that the drought in Colorado is over. But the Natural Resources Conservation Service points out that all but two rivers in the state are below 100% of average snow pack. The Arkansas river basin is at 106% of average, and the and the Rio Grande is at 101%, but the snow pack goes down from there in all of the other river basins in the state. The Dolores river has the lowest snow pack, which is below 80% of average. For the rest of the state, the snow pack doesn’t look too bad, until scientists factor in the dryness of the soils when the winter season started. The Meager anticipated snowmelt runoff is expected to mean another challenging year for maintaining even below-optimal levels of flows in the Colorado River downstream of the Palisade area for the benefit of endangered fish. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center expects that the April-July water supplies will range from 60-85% of normal in various parts of the basin. In southwest Colorado, Irrigation company managers are letting farmers know that irrigation water supplies will likely be cut in half or more unless by some miracle a lot of rain storms pass out way.
On Wednesday last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack laid out how the USDA will distribute additional COVID-19 aid. The agency will re-open the sign up for the CFAP-2 program for at least 60 days beginning April 5th. About $12 billion of aid is available for eligible farmers and ranchers who were affected by COVID-19 market disruptions. The USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers program will reach farmers and ranchers that didn’t benefit from the first COVID-19 aid program. This time around, the agency is dedicating at least $6 billion toward new programs, while distributing $4.5 billion to crop growers and $1.1 billion for cattle producers. The Department will also develop rules for new programs that will put a greater emphasis on outreach to small and socially disadvantaged, specialty crop and organic producers and timber harvesters, as well as provide support for the food supply chain and renewable fuels.
Recently, two studies concerning research about where consumers have been getting their food over the past year were reported. One was from Colorado and one from Minnesota. Both studies pointed out that people living in small rural communities often lack access to fresh food without traveling many miles to larger cities. Independent grocery retailers in small towns cite competition from large chain stores, super centers, drug and convenience stores and increasingly, dollar stores as factors affecting their ability to stay in business. When consumers buy paper products, cleaning supplies and personal care items from the corporate competition in in small towns, then shop at the independent grocery only for fresh produce and meat, there’s not enough profit to sustain the small grocery store. As these grocery stores close, communities often become food deserts, because many low income and elderly residents only have the option of purchasing food at a convenience or dollar store. However, during the pandemic, the Colorado study found that about 35% of the consumers contacted had tried at least one alternative source of food ranging from farmers markets, CSAs, or direct from local producers. While about 30% of the small grocery stores in Minnesota reported that they hadn’t purchased food locally because they were uncertain about regulations involved with selling local food products, about 10% of stores contacted said that they had sourced food from local producers over the past year, and 41% would like more access to local foods.
Last weekend’s storm dropped some much needed precipitation in the Four Corners Region. Snowtel Snow water totals showed an increase of from eight tens of an inch to just over an inch at many reporting points along the Dolores and Animas Rivers and at lower elevations in the Region. However, the storm that struck the eastern side of the Rocky mountains and eastern plains of Colorado dumping feet of snow in some places, which affected ranchers who wee in the middle of their calving season.
Barring a change in the weather, farmers and ranchers are likely to face dry conditions this growing season. To help producers adjust to this problem, the Colorado Drought Advisers program is offering the Livestock and Forage Grower Update, a series of webinars to help producers deal with expected dry conditions. All presentations are available using zoom between 10 -11:30 am today and the on the next two Tuesdays. Today, the topics is Drought planning from the rancher’s perspective, and legalities of stock water retention and stock water rights. Speakers include Jeff Meyer and Erika Murphy of Coyote Creek Ranch on creating their drought plan, and Brian Romig, Lead Water Administrator, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Division #6. The March 16th webinar will cover grazing management during drought on rangelands in western Colorado, and will feature decision tools developed by CSU Extension’s agriculture and business management team on strategic choices in drought. Speakers are Retta Bruegger and Jenny Beiermann of CSU Extension. The March 23rd webinar will focus on forage options and considerations as well as weed management in drought. Speakers are Gus Westerman and Robin Young of CSU Extension, and Dr. Kelcey Swyers, owner and operator of Grassland Nutrition Consulting. Contact CSU Extension offices or go to farmnewsandviews.net for information about signing up for the webinars. Those who sign up will receive a link for recordings of the webinars, whether they can attend or not. Paste this address into your browser: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYvce-rrz0iGtyWaZCBn_X7gM7cJEapBafO to participate in the webinar.
According to American Farm Bureau Chief Economist John Newton, National Agricultural Statistics Service data indicates that farm numbers in the United States decline by 4,400 farms in 2020. Colorado was one of five states that bucked the trend, gaining 100 farms last year. States that lost the most farms were located in the upper Midwest, with Michigan, Indiana Wisconsin and Minnesota each losing about 500 farms. Farm number peaked at almost 7 million in 1935, but had decline to just over 2 million farms by the mid 1970’s. The number of acres of land farmed has been fairly constant at about one billion acres since the 1920s, and over the past four decades the average farm size has remained at nearly440 acres.
Agriculture will be prominent on Capital hill this week. Secretary of Agriculture designate Tom Vilsack is expected to be confirmed by the Senate today, which may speed up distribution of billions of dollars in Covid relief to farmers, but a rebound in some agricultural commodity prices may encourage legislators to think that all is well in farm country and not be in a hurry to send any more cash to ag. Producers. The House Agriculture Committee is also expected to begin work on solving issues concerning climate change with a virtual hearing on Thursday to discuss how to begin working toward President Biden’s ambitious goal of helping the U.S farm sector to reach net-zero carbon emissions in the near future. One of the most discussed plans include developing a carbon bank that would pay farmers, foresters and ranchers to store carbon in the soil through regenerative agriculture and other climate-friendly practices. The plan would turn large areas of the U.S. into huge carbon sinks that could offset some of the 7,000 megatons of greenhouse gases the US emits each year.