CSU hopes to better understand impact of drought

FORT COLLINS — CSU agricultural economists are surveying farmers and ranchers to better understand the effects of this year’s drought on Colorado agriculture and to design effective management tools for dry times ahead.

CSU said Friday that its survey project is funded with $35,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

The university is asking farmers and ranchers to complete the questionnaire by Jan. 1 so economists may begin compiling data shortly after the first of the year. Colorado producers may complete the online questionnaire by visiting http://tinyurl.com/CSU-drought.

CSU economists are particularly interested in responses from an estimated 6,000 Colorado farms and ranches with annual income surpassing $100,000. These producers are at the core of the state’s agricultural industry, which contributes some $40 billion annually to the state’s economy, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

“We really want to take the temperature of what this drought has meant to farmers, ranchers and rural communities,´ said James Pritchett, associate professor in the CSU Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, who is leading the survey project. “That helps us design assistance going into the future.”

Among other issues, the survey asks producers about the likelihood that drought could force them out of farming and ranching. It also asks about tools and strategies producers need to improve management effectiveness in the face of drought.

The survey project is under way against the backdrop of drought that has intensely affected many regional farmers and ranchers. The U.S. Drought Monitor, which provides weekly updates, reports that all of Colorado is suffering from drought conditions, ranging from moderate to exceptional.

This was the case during much of the 2012 growing season, with the most severe known impacts on agricultural sectors that produce dry-land crops, such as wheat, or that rely on forage, Pritchett said. The latter group includes cattle and sheep operations.

Data show the look ahead could be equally grim: Very little snow has accumulated in much of western Colorado, the state’s chief water source. Meantime, temperatures have been above average, leading to melting of even low amounts of snowfall.

A secondary effect of drought is on the economic vibrancy of rural communities, where farmers and ranchers live and conduct business, and this makes effective management strategies even more important, Pritchett noted.

“The ripple effects can last for years,” he said.

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