Southern Colorado potato growers are optimistic they can come through this season with enough irrigation water for their crops.
The snow pack in the Rio Grande Basin stands at 73 percent of normal. The area has had 79 percent of normal winter precipitation.
Reports from the San Luis Valley point out that despite the fact groundwater has been dropping, there should be enough water for potatoes.
Most growers are cutting back on water use by 20 percent. This will be accomplished by growing fewer acres of high-water-need crops such as alfalfa, and removing end guns and corner systems from their center pivots. Growers also plan on better managing the water needs of their crops.
While there may be a very small reduction in potato acres, most of the crop cutbacks will be in small grains and alfalfa.
The drought in three of Colorado’s huge river basins actually arrived at the end of 1999. Seven of the past 10 winters have been dry in the San Juan and Deloris basins, and eight of the past 10 in the Yampa and White river basins.
Since 2000, Colorado agriculture production has slumped 13 percent or $4.5 billion. The money pumped into the economy by farmers has slipped even more to 20 percent on a statewide average.
The ability of ranchers and farmers to obtain credit under these conditions is on the very edge. Last year ranchers dumped some 200,000 head of cattle or 20 percent of the state’s herd. Some 50 percent of all herds in southern Colorado have been sold or moved out of state.
Ag experts say it could take at least seven years to bring the state’s herd back to that of two years ago.
There are reports that sugarbeets representing $20 million have not been planted in northern Colorado because of the lack of irrigation water.
Spring storms have only been enough to wet the first few inches of soil. There is a long summer ahead.