Extension specialist: Drought expected to linger, changes in farming methods needed
January 22, 2013
Colorado landowners weathered through 2012s record year of heat and drought.
The high temperatures we experienced along with low rainfall made 2012 the record for plant evapotranspiration demand and consequently water use.
Irrigation applications for most fields used record irrigation amounts just to keep up for crop water needs, and even then crops wilted early each day.
Making this situation worse, national weather forecasts for the western half of the United States and all of Colorado are not favorable for 2013.
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The seasonal drought outlook for Colorado and adjacent states predicts that the dry climate will persist or intensify over the next three months. Six- and nine-month forecasts also appear bleak, but as we know and hope, things can change.
Colorado farmers and ranchers will need to cope with short irrigation water availability, dry soils and limited rainfall for the near future and possibly throughout the 2013 growing season.
Colorado State University Extension provides research-based information on how to reduce the drought impacts on farming and ranching businesses.
CSU Extension's mission is to help people meet the challenge of change through education leading to enhancing people's knowledge, skills and coping strategies. CSU researchers have been conducting limited irrigation studies for several years.
That research can be adapted by farmers to optimize profits through dry and water-short times.
I regularly write about and offer education programs that offer cropping system alternatives that can help farm producers meet drought and other challenges. Some alternatives require farmers to make major shifts in how they manage crops and fields and their whole farm operation.
For example, many dryland farmers in eastern Colorado have shifted from wheat-fallow to rotations including one or more summer crops before or after the wheat crop. These farmers use no-till system or a much-reduced tillage to reduce their costs and enhance their soil moisture capture. This very widespread change was initiated by research findings and the experience of a handful of innovative farmers.
Although some farmers continue the traditional wheat-fallow system, the dryland farmers who are growing their operations are those who have succeeded in making the transition to these no-till multi-crop rotational systems.
Dryland farmers make these new systems work. They also educate other farmers on the practical farming techniques through organizations such as the Colorado Conservation Tillage Association.
I feel it is my role to challenge the status quo farming practices with new agricultural ideas and techniques. Not all fit every farm and some do not fit any.
It's my conviction that if a farm manager is going to remain profitable, transition changes effectively and grow their business, they will need to keep abreast of the alternatives and try out a few of the most promising techniques and farming systems.
The same principle applies to each extension agent.
We also need to keep up with new and alternative research-based agricultural ideas and techniques. I encourage you to challenge me with your crop or crop system questions or ways I can improve my service to farmers.
Bruce Bosley is a crop systems specialist for Colorado State University Extension. He can be reached at (970) 980-4001 or Bruce.Bosley@colostate.edu. ❖