Colorado State University Drought Survey to Help Farmers

The majority of Colorado agricultural producers are committed to continuing production despite drought conditions and alterations in short term practices, according to preliminary results of a survey done by Colorado State University. However, 25 percent of all producers indicated they have a greater than 50 percent probability of leaving agriculture if the drought persists beyond 2003.

Drought conditions lead researchers in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Colorado State and the Climate Diagnostics Center and Western Water Assessment in Boulder to conduct a random survey of agricultural producers in the summer of 2002. The increase in rainfall and above-normal snowpack conditions gives researchers the opportunity to examine the impacts of the drought and learn how people responded.

"We conducted the survey to improve outreach programs based on how people responded, so we can get better information to them in the future," said Eric Schuck, assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at Colorado State.

Schuck and his colleagues surveyed 3,501 randomly selected agricultural producers about the indirect effects of the drought, including things the producers could control, such as changes in production practices. Producers with operations covering more than 50 acres were drawn from the Colorado Agricultural Statistics Service producer data base and mailed last fall.

The preliminary results of the survey revealed that irrigators were hit the hardest, especially 70 percent of irrigators who received water from irrigation districts or ditch companies. Irrigators with primary ground wells or direct surface diversions had higher water supplies, but irrigators depending on districts and ditches received only 32 percent of their average proportion of shares, with 24 percent receiving no water deliveries.

The extreme lack of water lead 30 percent of irrigators to abandon growing crops, typically alfalfa and corn, during June, July and August of last year. Few irrigators changed crops last year, but the preliminary survey results revealed that 13 percent would change crops if drought conditions continued.

The preliminary survey results show basic trends with changes in on-farm production and financial impact for farms. Nineteen percent of survey respondents turned to off-farm employment to compensate losses, while 25 percent reported making reductions in the household standard of living and another 25 percent reported seeking federal assistance.

"This survey allowed us to identify missed opportunities," said Schuck. "For example, less than 1 percent of respondents reported selling water, while only a little over 1 percent reported leasing water."