Ag commissioner: State needs moisture now |

Ag commissioner: State needs moisture now

DENVER – Warm weather and decreased snowpack in much of Colorado mirror conditions found in 2002’s drought and could hurt farmers and ranchers across Colorado, state agriculture commissioner Don Ament said Thursday.Alfalfa farmers in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley stand to lose much of their alfalfa crop this year and wheat farmers on the Eastern Plains are worried their crop could dry up unless rain falls on their fields soon, he said.”We need moisture and we need it over most of the state, including Denver,” Ament said. “…That’s the prayer for this week.”Above average temperatures in January and February caused alfalfa to start growing earlier than normal in southern Colorado. But later, warm weather also caused mountain snow to melt earlier than normal, leaving less water for farmers to irrigate their upstart crops with, Ament said.The snowpack in the Upper Rio Grande basin which supplies the San Luis Valley is now at 25 percent of average but snow levels are also dangerously low in other parts of the state. Overall, the statewide snowpack is 47 percent of average, according to the federal Natural Resources Conservation Group.The lowest levels are in the southwestern corner of the state, where snowpack is 21 percent of average.The Pueblo Chieftain reported Thursday that the San Luis Valley could lose $60 million because of the alfalfa losses. That includes the loss of this year’s crop, damage to subsequent harvests and the drop in farmers’ income, according to Merlin Dillon, a Colorado State University agronomist, who discussed the situation with the Alamosa County commissioners this week.Commission chairman Darius Allen, who lost just about all the 1,000 acres of alfalfa he raised with two partners, said that crop insurance will only cover a small amount of the losses for farmers, the Chieftain reported. He said U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and Rep. John Salazar have been asked to help get emergency funds to help the farmers.North of Denver, 200 farmers stand to lose up to more than $3 million worth of crops after the state shut down their wells after officials realized that snow had melted faster than expected. They’re asking three cities to share their water with them to save their onions, corns and sugar beets.In southeastern Colorado, at least one auction barn has been busier than normal this week as some ranchers start to sell calves because they fear there won’t be enough grass to support all their cattle. Don Honey of La Junta Livestock Auction Co. said some ranchers are selling calves at 250 lbs. rather than waiting until the fall when they would bring in more money at between 500 and 600 lbs.

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