How to survive another dry season was the topic front and center at ag show this week in Rocky Ford #codrought

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Farmers and ranchers can make it through a drought by planning ahead, managing resources and making timely decisions. That advice was given to about 150 people who attended the Arkansas Valley Farm, Ranch, Water Symposium and Trade Show Thursday.

“It took me four years to learn what I should have learned in one,” said Huerfano County rancher Grady Grissom. Grissom started the Rancho Largo Cattle Co. in 1995 with a business plan designed to maximize herd size in order to cover his costs.

Meanwhile, if you have water, the good news is that commodity prices for farm products are expected for the growing season. Here’s an report from Matt Hildner writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

While drought conditions are expected to continue to plague the state this summer, farmers and ranchers who can withstand them will likely see high commodity prices. James Pritchett, an agricultural economist at Colorado State University­Fort Collins, reviewed the economic impacts of the drought and discussed potential impacts during a Wednesday session of the Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Fair. “Farm revenues are going to hit record levels this year on the strength of higher prices,” he said. “So if you have a crop — and not everybody does — and you’re able to stay in production, you’re going to make some money.”

Pritchett and a pair of colleagues have yet to wrap up their surveys on how producers did in 2012 but based on preliminary results, he said operations with lower debt ratios would be in the best position to benefit from high prices for many commodities.

“I think it’s the high-debt folks, I think it’s the dry­land crop producers, I think it’s the cow­-calf producers — those are the ones that are experiencing some of the most difficulties,” he said. His results from 2011 found the San Luis Valley had an above­average year and endured only $4.7 million in drought­related losses. “There weren’t really reductions in irrigation yields and there wasn’t a big change in harvested acres versus planted acres,” he said.

That year also saw little impact on Main Street businesses dealing with agriculture, but he thinks that will change as the drought persists. “In 2011, I don’t think anybody saw the drought coming,” he said. “But if you expect the drought to come, you do adjust your input purchases.”

That could mean farmers and ranchers spend less on pesticides, herbicides and farm equipment.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Time is growing short if the snowpack — water content in the standing snow — surrounding Steamboat is to its historic norm by the end of the season, Mage Hultstrand, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver, said Thursday. She said February and March typically combine to provide 36 percent of annual snowpack, with April contributing another 3 percent. With current snowpack in the combined Yampa/White River basin standing at 47 percent of the annual peak, mountains in the area would have to see 53 percent of the annual snowpack accumulate between now and the second week in April to reach the average.

“The average peak there is on April 11,” Hultstrand said. “To get there in the next two months would take well above-average snowfall for February and March.” Hultstrand is the agency’s assistant snow survey supervisor.

The NRCS reported Feb. 1 that despite heavy snowfall in late January, Colorado’s snowpack was at 72 percent of normal for the date and 10 percent lower than where it stood at the same time in the drought winter of 2011-12.

The combined Yampa/White river basin, which includes most of Routt County, is doing a little better, according to the NRCS, at 77 percent of average and 115 percent of last year’s levels. Another encouraging sign is that reservoir storage across the twin basin currently stands at 103 percent of average for the date.

Focusing on specific locations in the Yampa River Basin, the snow measuring station at 9,400 feet on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass was showing 11 inches of water contained in 43 inches of snow Thursday, or 75 percent of average for the date. Those 11 inches of water also represent 42 percent of peak snowpack (water content); Rabbit Ears typically peaks at 26.1 inches of moisture April 28.

At the Tower site at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass, there currently is 69 inches of snow on the ground containing 19.2 inches of moisture. The water content at the Tower site, which typically holds some of the most robust snowpack in the state, is just 66 percent of the average of 29.1 inches for the date and 37 percent of the seasonal peak.

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Coming off a pitiful 2012 snowpack, Northern Colorado farmers have worried for months about what this year’s snowpack will portend. Snowpack in the South Platte River Basin hovered at 60 percent of average earlier this month. It has reached only 70 percent in the has reached only 70 percent in the Colorado River Basin.

The National Resource Conservation Service said recently that it expects below-average water supplies this spring and summer in the West, with Colorado especially hard hit. Cities are weighing a range of drought restrictions.

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

The cities of Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland are considering new restrictions on water use in response to a drought expected to last at least through summer…

In Fort Collins, City Manager Darin Atteberry has the authority to enact water restrictions, though the City Council reviewed the matter earlier this week. The city’s two main sources of water, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and Poudre River, likely will yield less water this year because of the drought as well as High Park Fire destruction. The city is considering Level 1 water restrictions, which allows watering only two days per week and on a schedule. The restrictions bar watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and prohibit watering of surfaces such as sidewalks and patios except as necessary for health and safety. The last time the city enacted water restrictions was a decade ago.

Greeley has had water restrictions in place since 1907. It normally only allows watering just three days per week, and no watering between noon and 5 p.m. The city will decide whether to enact tighter drought restrictions in April, when Northern Water issues its quotas, said Jon Monson, director of Water and Sewer. Greeley, like the city of Fort Collins, is concerned that it may have to curb its consumption of Poudre River water because of debris-filled runoff during spring, he added.

City of Loveland officials also are discussing water restrictions, said Gretchen Stanford, customer relations manager for the city’s utility. But like Greeley, Loveland is waiting for Northern Water to make a move. However, Loveland considers itself well-positioned for tight water supplies this year, considering it receives water from Green Ridge Glade Reservoir in addition to the Colorado-Big Thompson project, Stanford said. But next year could pose a problem if the drought wears on. “If we have the same exact summer as we had last year, we would be concerned about 2014,” she said.

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