Colorado meteorologist warns farmers, ranchers to prepare for future drought years
Range Beef Cow Symposium
The Range Beef Cow Symposium is a biennial event that offers education, updates and information to farmers and ranchers in the beef industry. It is a three-day long event, focusing on beef production issues in the western U.S., which was hosted this year at The Ranch events center in Loveland. There were more than 700 producers in attendance and 80 agribusiness vendors. It is sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Service and animal science departments of the University of Wyoming, South Dakota State University, Colorado State University and the University of Nebraska. The event rotates between Colorado, western Nebraska, western South Dakota and Wyoming.
Bledsoe, chief meteorologist at KKTV in Colorado Springs, presented a long-term outlook of weather patterns to beef producers from across the United States at the Range Beef Cow Symposium on Wednesday at The Ranch.
More than 700 producers attended the biennial symposium, which focused on beef production issues in the western United States.
The patterns will likely affect farmers and ranchers in Colorado and across the country.
“I am always thinking about drought,” Bledsoe said. “There is no worse thing in the agriculture business than drought.”
While most of the country has been enjoying the excess moisture over the past few years, Bledsoe has been watching weather patterns to see when that moisture might break and fall into drought conditions.
He said the United States is in an El Niño Pacific Decadal Oscillation Phase, which means the water on the Pacific Ocean is warm. It’s not only warm, he said, but last year from about December through February, there were record high surface temperatures.
“It is starting to cool down a little bit from its record-high levels,” Bledsoe said.
Whether the Pacific Ocean is warm or cold or the Atlantic Ocean is warm or cold, “it has a huge impact on our weather,” he said.
The abnormally high surface temperatures on the Pacific have had an effect on much of the world’s weather.
El Niño is causing droughts in California, which is affecting the farmers and ranchers in that area as they fight the cities for water.
It also is expected to cause the Southeast to have a cold, wet winter.
The phenomenon is responsible for a lot of weird weather happening around the globe, including October’s Hurricane Patricia in Mexico.
But Bledsoe expects the ocean phases to shift to a La Niña phase in the next few years.
“La Niña is the opposite of El Niño,” he said, meaning it will likely bring with it times of drought — every farmer and rancher’s nightmare.
“Either way you cut it, this El Niño and this blessing of moisture that we’ve had over the High Plains is not going to last,” he said. “El Niño will peak here in about the next month or two.”
With any weather pattern, local farmers know drought from years past, but La Niña threatens worse times in the future.
“If you’re a rancher or farmer in the High Plains, you experience drought about 75 percent of the time,” he said.
Bledsoe said he doesn’t know exactly when the shift will happen, but he does know that those in the agriculture industry need to be ready. He said having a drought plan is the only way to survive.
Bledsoe said feeding cattle and maintaining a cow/calf operation in the midst of a drought is extremely difficult, even with a plan in place.
“But if you have a drought plan that you can enact to a T, you will survive,” he said. Even though he expects the moisture to continue through the year, he said, “I should be thinking about the return to dryness. A lot can happen between now and then.”
His advice was to use the precipitation that does come over the next years as intelligently as possible.
“If you have good moisture in the spring, put it to efficient use,” he said. “I don’t know when this is going to be happening, but it will.”
He said the only way to combat it is to plan for drought.
“For a younger farmer or rancher, under the age of 40, if you don’t have a drought plan, you better get one yesterday,” Bledsoe said. For the older farmers and ranchers who are putting off figuring it out, he said, “there’s no mights about this. If you might, you might lose a lot of money. Let me say that again, you will lose a lot of money.” ❖
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From June through September, John Etchart spends most of the day driving a tractor through hayfields below the mountains near Meeker in northwestern Colorado.