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.
Snow over the past weekend was sure welcome. We still need more to catch up, because it generally, it takes 10 inches of snow to get one inch of precipitation, but with temperatures in the mid thirties in the valleys of southwest Colorado for most of the day on Saturday, the water content may have been closer to 5 or 6 to one. Let it snow!
A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture should be of interest to U.S. farmers and ranchers. The agency estimates that U.S. Farm farm income will be $111.4 billion this year, that’s 20% above the 10-year average. Economists point out the total farm income is a combination of sales of crops and livestock and direct government payments. Higher prices are expected for corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs, the major farm enterprises in the United States. But the total farm income will be $9.7 billion below last year’s farm income, because of a sharp decrease in federal payments, which the department expects will fall from a record $46 billion last year to about $25 billion in 2021. Sales of farm output is expected to boost farm receipts by $20.4 billion due to a $11.8 billion increase in crop sales plus an additional $8.6 billion in livestock receipts when compared to 2020. Some potential changes to farm income might include additional Covid-19 payments, and a USDA-backed carbon credit market that the Biden administration may create this year. However, these USDA projections seldom predict exactly how the year will turn out, since weather often impacts crop yields around the world, and in turn, affects farm gate prices.
Even though we’ve received several inches of snow over the past week, drought still concerns farmers, ranchers, and water managers in the Four Corners Region and the southwest. The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation recently reported that Lake Mead and Lake Powell, reservoirs, that store Colorado River water for 40 million users, are both approaching near-record-low levels, with Lake Powell at 42% of capacity and Lake Mead at 40%. From 2000 to 2020, inflows to Lake Powell were above average in only four of the past 19 years.
Is farm profitability in the United States untethered from the environment?
A common topic in agricultural publications is farm and ranch profitability, which may tie into some new research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The article, “Cropland expansion in the United States,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Communications. This article reported that the U S is losing an average of more than1 million acres of grasslands, wetlands, and forests to cropland each year. However, the study points out that from 2008 to 2015, these conversions have produced marginal crop yields, while imposing significantly high costs to wildlife and insect populations. Researchers determined that when studied the land that was converted, they found that it disproportionately impacted the highest-quality habitat. For example, the conversions affected waterfowl nesting locations that had 40% greater duck accessibility. They also found that grasslands, which hosted three times as many monarch butterfly resources as typical land, were lost at a rate that was 10 times greater than had been previously estimated, and that this conversion continues to impact Monarch butterfly population recovery efforts.