Northeast Colorado’s renowned agriculture industry will bounce back from the historic flood that recently swept across the region, but there will certainly be challenges in the days ahead, local producers say.
There were concerns that the many impacted roads — 122 bridges wiped out in Weld County alone, the eighth-largest ag-producing county in the U.S. — would make transportation of livestock, feed, harvested crops and other ag products longer, more complicated and expensive.
“It definitely made life difficult for a few days,” said Chris Kraft, a dairyman in Morgan County, Colo. — another ag-producing county that saw significant damage from the flood. “Things have gotten better, though. We’ve had some roads open up in recent days.
“But there’s still a ways to go.”
The flood waters — which reached record levels of about 19 feet last weekend in the South Platte River near Greeley, Colo., where flood levels are around 10-11 feet — washed out ditches and other irrigation-system infrastructure. Those repairs will cost thousands of dollars, if not millions, and need to be complete before the next growing season, farmers say.
The recent ambush of rain has set an already late harvest back several days, and northeast Colorado farmers are increasingly concerned that the first killing frost of the season — typically falling in early to mid October — will roll around while there are plenty of crops still in the fields.
Additionally, some livestock owners are concerned about the debris that came with the flood waters, and question if extra precautions will be needed to make sure the water they’re pumping into their livestock’s drinking tanks isn’t contaminated.
“We haven’t heard of any incidents where there have been problems with drinking water for livestock, but we’ve heard some questions raised about it,” said Keith Maxey, director of the Colorado State University Extension office in Weld County, noting that the local Extension office is working to provide information to producers on such issues. “I certainly encourage rural residents to get their water tested.”
While many are preparing for the challenges ahead, others are still picking up pieces.
Glenn Werning, a farmer along the South Platte Rive near LaSalle, Colo., had more than 400 acres of corn silage still under a couple feet of water Monday night.
He said he’s hoping things dry out enough — and for long enough — to where his saturated crops can still be harvested.
Unlike Werning, Dave Petrocco, who operates Petrocco Farms in Brighton, Colo., knows his crops under water are not salvageable. All together, it’s about 110 acres of cabbage and onions along the South Platte. Petrocco had already lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of produce to hail storms in August.
The problems are aplenty along the river and will remain so for the local ag industry as a whole for months to come, but many say they’re making do with the situation.
Officials with JBS Five Rivers, which feeds tens of thousands of cattle at two Weld County feedlots near Gilcrest, Colo. and Kersey, Colo., reported Monday that, despite road closures, they’re not having significant problems getting feed to the animals, noting that they have sufficient supplies of corn and protein on site. Corn silage that has been harvested recently will be piled at a nearby dairy on the other side of the South Platte River, and then hauled across once the roads are fixed, but none of this presents any problems, officials added.
Wade Meek with Dairy Farmers of America, which provides the milk-hauling fleet for the region’s dairy industry, said the cooperative is working with new routes to get milk from dairy farms to the processing facilities — like Leprino Foods in Greeley — but noted that all milk in the region is still being picked up as needed.
While making do, the recovery for some won’t be over any time soon.
“There’s just a lot of things that are going to take a while,” said Kevin Ochsner, a Kersey, Colo.,-area cattle producer, who, with the help of family, friends and neighbors, relocated about 180 head of cattle, standing in water, to higher ground this past weekend. “We had a lot of sand wash up on to our pasture. I can remove logs and debris, but how do I remove sand?
“We’ll all be at it for a while ... but people in agriculture are pretty resilient. Across the board, we still have a lot to be thankful for.” ❖