Colorado farmers feel the heat from drought : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Colorado farmers feel the heat from drought By KATHERINE VOGT, Associated Press

AKRON, Colo. (July 17, 2000 2:48 p.m. EDT - Standing in an amber-hued field of winter wheat, Alan Foutz snaps the head off a stalk and grinds the feathery tip in his hand to uncover four shriveled kernels.

In a good year, the head would hold about 28 plump kernels. But persistent dry, hot weather, combined with a one-night freeze in May, has nearly ruined Foutz's wheat crop.

Foutz predicts this year's yield will be about 30 percent of normal; his annual agriculture take will be cut in half, to about $50,000.

"This is about as bad as I've ever seen it," said Foutz, who has farmed for nearly 50 years near this community of 1,500, about 100 miles northeast of Denver.

Hundreds of Colorado farmers and cattle ranchers are facing similar problems because of drought. The hot, dry weather has withered wheat crops and left the cattle nibbling on toxic weeds because of a lack of grass. The dry spell has also parched portions of Kansas and Nebraska.

"The only silver lining would be if the monsoon season would kick in early enough or well enough to help make a dent," said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska.

The South Platte River near the Nebraska state line was at its lowest flow on record last week.

Colorado's winter wheat crop was the fourth-largest in the nation last year.

As of May 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated Colorado winter wheat production this year would total 98.7 million bushels, or 42 bushels per acre. Two months later, that estimate was revised to 70.5 million bushels, or 30 bushels per acre.

That could cost farmers $70.5 million in income, said Darrell Hanavan, executive director of the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee.

In addition, prices were about $2.50 per bushel in Colorado last week, compared with a five-year average of $3.42 per bushel, he said.

The conditions also may affect other crops, including corn and hay. Statistician Renee Liles of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it is too early to predict any financial loss.

Foutz said some of his fellow farmers might be forced to shut down if things don't improve.

In the cattle industry, some ranchers have dipped into winter hay supplies for feed because of a lack of forage. At least four cases of fatal cattle poisonings have been reported from animals eating toxic weeds in Morgan County because of a lack of forage.

Other ranchers may have to decide whether to keep cattle that may prove a financial hardship.

At least 15 counties may seek federal disaster relief, which would make qualified farmers and ranchers eligible for low-interest loans. Some counties have asked for additional federal grazing rights on land set aside through a conservation program to feed cattle.

Drought is also affecting other parts of the country.

In Florida, federal officials have added 59 of 67 counties to a list of drought-related disaster areas.

In portions of the Midwest, generous rains recently moved in to ease drought conditions in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.

In Akron, farmers are tightening their belts.

"You talk to the automobile dealer over here, he's really feeling the pinch," Foutz said. But "farmers are a different breed. We're always braced for a bad year. The sun is going to come up in the east tomorrow, and we'll go on.",2107,500229042-500330861-501884473-0,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, July 17, 2000

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