Story & Photos by Robyn Scherer, M.Agr.
Staff Reporter

Back to: GeneralNews
July 16, 2012
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Drought Disaster in Colorado


The current wide spread drought is starting to take its toll, as hot weather and little precipitation wreck havoc on dryland crops across the state. The stress is being received at a crucial time, and could affect the production of the crops.

On July 12, the USDA declared 1,016 counties in 26 states disaster-areas, the biggest declaration in USDA history. Almost every county in Colorado is under the declaration, with Delta and San Juan counties being the only two counties not under the designation. Farmers in those areas can still qualify for the programs, however.

“Anything that can be done to reduce processing time and reducing the interest rate for disaster loans is a welcome sight for Colorado corn growers, especially those hit hardest by this disaster,” said Jared Fiel, Communications and Marketing Director for the Colorado Corn Board.

About a third of the counties in the U.S. are now eligible for low-interest loans to help them get through the drought, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“Agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy and it is increasingly important that USDA has the tools to act quickly and deliver assistance to farmers and ranchers when they need it most,” said Vilsack. “By amending the Secretarial disaster designation, we’re creating a more efficient and effective process. And by delivering lower interest rates on emergency loans and providing greater flexibility for haying and grazing on CRP lands, we’re keeping more farmers in business and supporting our rural American communities through difficult times. With these improvements, we’re also telling American producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.”

The declaration covers counties in the following states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

The declaration also speeds up the process for disaster claims, and reduces the penalty to ranchers for grazing livestock on land that has been set aside for conservation.

A final rule that simplifies the process for Secretarial disaster designations will result in a 40 percent reduction in processing time for most counties affected by disasters, according to the USDA.

The interest rate will be cut from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent, and a payment reduction on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands qualified for emergency haying and grazing in 2012 is reduced from 25 to 10 percent. As much as $39 million is available under the lower interest rate program.

Roughly 53 percent of the Midwest is in extreme drought, which is where the majority of the corn is grown. As of July 8, 40 percent of the country’s crop was rated good to excellent, which dropped 8 percentage points from the previous week. It is the lowest for this time of year since 1988, according to the USDA.

In the state of Colorado, corn progressed to 9 percent silked, 3 percentage-points ahead of the five year average, with the crop rated in mostly fair to good condition, according to the July 9 crop progress report. Corn conditions declined and rated 16 percent very poor, 22 percent poor, 31 percent fair, 28 percent good and 3 percent excellent, well below last year’s 75 percent good to excellent.

“Tasseling and pollination is beginning and will generally be in progress over the next few weeks. That is a critical time for the plant as the kernels on the cob are forming. If the plant is stressed from inadequate moisture, fewer kernels per ear can result,” said Fiel.

He continued, “While it’s a pretty safe bet that average yields and overall production will probably be down for this growing season, it really is too early to say right now with any kind of certainty what we would expect. Corn is going through an important yield determining stage now and through the next few weeks. The rains received across much of the Eastern plains over the recent weeks have been incredibly valuable and will mitigate potential losses. We are all looking to the skies for some precipitation to further ease concerns.”

Drought is not new, especially in Colorado. “Growers have dealt with drought before. With improvements in growing techniques, management practices and technology, our producers have learned from the past and continue to find new ways to feed and fuel America. Farmers are professionals. They implement changes in tillage and residue management that conserve moisture. The drought conditions of 10 years ago were of dust bowl proportions, yet they still produced a near-record crop at a national level,” Fiel said.

Fiel knows that Colorado is not the only state dealing with significant drought, but that the state does have some advantages over others.

“We are not alone in dealing with this here in Colorado. Drought stress is effecting areas in the Midwest also. Colorado is usually in a better position to deal with this because we have much more of our acres under irrigation. However, the incredibly low snowpack has certainly decreased that advantage for us. Generally, the stressed areas are getting all the attention, but there are also areas of the country where production will likely be higher than average,” he said.

The condition of pastureland declined slightly despite the rain showers from last year. There have been several reports of pasture grasses growing very little or going dormant due to the dry conditions. Pastureland is rated mostly very poor to fair condition across the state.

USDA’s crop insurance program currently insures 264 million acres, 1.14 million policies, and $110 billion worth of liability on about 500,000 farms. More information about federal crop insurance may be found at www.RMA.USDA.gov. Additional resources to help farmers and ranchers deal with flooding may be found at www.USDA.gov/Disaster.

“We are not alone in dealing with this here in Colorado. Drought stress is effecting areas in the Midwest also. Colorado is usually in a better position to deal with this because we have much more of our acres under irrigation. However, the incredibly low snowpack has certainly decreased that advantage for us. Generally, the stressed areas are getting all the attention, but there are also areas of the country where production will likely be higher than average.”
~ Jared Fiel, Communications & Marketing Director for the CO Corn Board




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