Drought's impact on local farmers focus of survey

Colo. State survey aims to help manage dry periods

Colorado State University wants to hear from local farmers and ranchers as part of a new survey about the impact this year's drought has had on them.

The survey, "Telling the Story - Drought in Colorado," aims to understand the full affect of the drought on Colorado agriculture and design management tools and assistance programs for future dry periods.

"We want to know how resilient (farmers and ranchers) are," said James Pritchett, an associate professor at Colorado State who is leading the survey.

The survey asks producers about the likelihood the drought could force them out of business and what tools and strategies producers need to improve management effectiveness in a drought.

This year's drought is the worst in more than 50 years, and local farmers have reported severe hay shortages.

Local farmer Phillip Craig told The Durango Herald in October that he produced half as many bales of hay this summer as a normal season.

Some ranchers sold part of their herds or increased their prices because of the hay and corn shortage, and those costs are passed on to consumers.

Corn prices reached record highs this past summer, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that more farmers are filing crop-insurance claims to help offset their losses from crop failures.

Friday's snowstorm provided some much-needed relief, but snow levels in the Four Corners remain well below normal so far.

Some farmers have been able to profit even in the drought, Pritchett said.

"There is a fair share of folks that it has really significantly negatively impacted," he said. "But at the same time some producers have been significantly positively impacted because of prices, and they were fortunate to have enough water."

The survey is funded with $35,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Farmers and ranchers are urged to complete the survey by Jan. 1, 2013. Agricultural economists will start compiling data Jan. 2 and are expected to put together their findings by the end of January or early February, Pritchett said.

Economists are especially interested in responses from farms and ranches with annual income more than $100,000, according to a CSU news release.

Farmers and ranchers can access the survey at http://tinyurl.com/CSU-drought. It takes about 20 minutes to complete.

jdahl@durangoherald.com