Colorado farmers and ranchers may be facing another dry year, with several counties already seeking disaster designation from the state. While these areas may still receive spring rains that would improve conditions, those rains – if they drop average moisture for this time of year – would not provide enough moisture to allow rangelands and crops to adequately recover, according to Colorado State University experts.
The U.S. drought monitor indicates that much of Colorado is abnormally dry, and the southeastern area of the state is in the grips of an extreme drought. Much of the state’s agricultural land has not recovered from extremely dry conditions of recent years, with below average precipitation since 1998.
Currently, 44 of Colorado’s 64 counties have primary or contiguous drought disaster designations from the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These designations invoke emergency programs designed to help affected farmers and ranchers.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration drought forecast released May 18 predicts more than half the state will have continued or more intensified drought levels than current conditions. Much of the state has received below-average precipitation this winter and spring.
"Colorado’s agricultural industry has been struggling with drought conditions for several years, with some areas of the state suffering from below average moisture for more than 10 years. Ranchers in sections of the state are feeding their cattle hay or selling them because there is no grass available for grazing, and crops are withering quickly," said Jeff Tranel, an agricultural business management economist with Colorado State Cooperative Extension. "The long-term impact of the drought on the industry and resources such as graze-land are extremely significant at this point. Farmers and ranchers can improve their situation with strategic management decisions."
Colorado State University and the university’s Cooperative Extension have resources available to help farmers and ranchers make management decisions based on climate conditions. Localized information and resources are available through Cooperative Extension county and regional offices, usually listed under the county government section of the phone book.
In addition, drought information and resources are offered online at www.drought.colostate.edu, including Cooperative Extension information that can be accessed by clicking on the link on the right. The site also includes up-to-date information about municipal watering restrictions and ideas to preserve water in households and on landscapes.
A water shortage affects many industries, including farmers, vegetable growers and greenhouses, recreational businesses and tourism, as well as implications for residents in urban and rural areas and how they’ll use water. The food production industry, including farmers and ranchers, are typically the first businesses and individuals most affected by drought.