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Disaster assistance for drought conditions urged

Denver—As drought in the Rocky Mountain Region worsens and prospects for a profitable agriculture year lessen, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) has urged U.S. Congress to pass a provision that would provide disaster assistance to producers hit by drought and other natural disasters. The U.S. Senate already has passed a provision as part of its farm bill that would designate $2.3 billion nationwide for crop and livestock production losses due to natural disasters.

“Parts of Colorado and New Mexico have not had any measurable precipitation for months,” said RMFU president John Stencel. “Considering that farm prices for many commodities have been at all-time lows over the past several years, without some pretty aggressive assistance this drought could drive many family producers out of business.”

According to the Colorado Drought Task Force, as of March 21, snow packs in Colorado’s mountains were at 60 percent of average. The Colorado Water Conservation Board, recently reported the snow pack is now only 31 percent of average statewide. More than half the ranchers in Upper Gunnison Basin likely will be denied their regular water supply this spring and summer. “It’s the driest I have ever seen,” said Lynn Orebaugh, a wheat and cattle producer from Two Buttes, Colo., in the far southeast corner of the state. Orebaugh says that area moisture is 5 percent of average in his area. He is hoping producers will be granted permission to graze their Conservation Reserve Program land, but adds that if permission is given, it usually does not come until September. “That will be too late to do much good,’” he said.

In the far southwest corner of the state, Wade Wilson, from Montezuma County, reports moisture at 10-20 percent of normal. “Producers in our area are going on the eighth year of dry weather,” said Wilson. “We’re probably looking at just one cutting of hay this year instead of our normal three to four cuttings.”

Closer to the center of the state, Barb Marty of Henderson, Colo., says water shortages have been rampant over the past decade. She estimates moisture this year at about 40 percent of normal. “We don’t plan to make any planting changes, but I don’t know how our vegetable-growing neighbors can make it without the irrigation,” said Marty. “It’s going to be a long summer.

According to Marty, whose family farm is surrounded by concentrated housing development spilling out from the Denver Metro area, water shortages have generally corresponded with the spike in development.