Drought monitor reports continue to indicate that the Four Corners Region is in moderate to severe drought, but the NRCS Snotel reports offer some hope to farmers, ranchers and residents. As of yesterday’s report, both the Dolores-San Miguel and Animas River Basins’ snow water content is 107% of the 30 year average, the same as it was year ago. Southeastern Utah river Basins are at 133% of average, 4% higher than a year ago, and the San Juan River is 10% lower than a year ago at 100 % of average. The entire Upper Colorado River basin, which includes includes tributary rivers in southwest Wyoming, western Colorado, Northwestern New Mexico, eastern Utah, and northeastern Arizona is also 107% of average.
After wet weather and flooding hit parts of the Midwest last spring and early summer, predictions of poor grain, oil seed and hay production was big news in farm publications. But by the end of 2019, USDA reports indicated that while some farmers had poor corn and soybean crops, overall, U.S. farmers ended up with total yields similar to those in 2018. Hay production, on the other hand, was higher than the previous year. The annual USDA hay stocks report for 2019 indicates that U.S. hay supplies were nearly 7% above 2018, and Four Corners states hay stocks are almost 32% above the year before. Arizona growers reported a 47% increase, Utah reported that supplies were up a 33%, with New Mexico’s supply at 32% and the Colorado hay stocks are pegged at 14% over the 2018 supply. Hay is often considered a regional crop, that’s usually fed locally, but occasionally is trucked a few hundred miles to dairies or feed lots. However, the distance that hay is being shipped continues to expand. For example, high quality grass hay produced in the Four Corners Region is in high demand in the southeastern states, and over $1.4 billion worth of U.S. hay is exported to Japan, China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. While demand for high quality grass hay has increased over the past few years, the market for dairy hay has declined because the U.S. dairy herd continues to shrink due to low milk prices, which caused about 2,500 dairy farms to go out of business in 2018.
Hundreds of millions of desert locusts are sweeping across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, as well as affecting residents of Uganda, Eritrea and Djibouti, according to reports from Africa. The United Nations is calling the outbreak the worst in a quarter of a century. Although governments are carrying out aerial spraying of pesticides, the infestation is reportedly beyond local capacity to control this plague of short horned grasshoppers. The insects threaten to increase food shortages in a region where up to 25 million people are suffering from three consecutive years of droughts and floods. In the second half of the 19th Century, huge swarms of Rocky Mountain locusts plagued settlers in the American High Plains. Huge swarms of these locusts are reported to have eaten everything but the mortgage for thousands of farmers. Accounts tell of the insects being so numerous that trains couldn’t travel, because the squashed bodies of the insects caused locomotives to lose traction. But by the early 1880s, the Rocky Mountain Locusts were extinct, the cause of which is still uncertain.
Considering challenging times, an old proverb comes to mind. There is nothing certain but the uncertain.