Community Agricultural Alliance: Mitigating drought impacts

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Agricultural producers in Colorado are facing one of the worst droughts in U.S. history with more than half of the state falling into the exceptional or extreme drought categories.

Current snowpack and year-to-date average precipitation is below the watershed median, yielding 73 and 77 percent, respectively. Local reservoir storage also is down. Although it is an improvement from last year, which brought only 44 percent of median moisture to our watershed by April, it is expected that this drought will continue into this year’s growing season.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is rolling out a Drought Resilience Improvement Project to try to help mitigate the negative impacts of prolonged drought on our agricultural producers and the imperative goods and services they provide. As part of the project, the Conservation Service will provide technical and financial assistance to help producers make their operation more resilient to prolonged drought by adopting conservation practices. Producers who are eligible for the project will be granted a waiver to implement some practices immediately and will receive financial assistance once they have meet eligibility requirements.

The project will focus on three land uses:

■ Cropland: Protecting soil resources from erosion, improving soil health for long-term benefits and improving water-use efficiency. The highest priority will be given to fields that are cropped annually and not in permanent hay. Practices include cover crops, no till and irrigation water management.

■ Rangeland: Promoting rangeland recovery from drought and preparing for future drought needs. Practices include deferred grazing with the development of a drought contingency plan and associated water developments. Grazing must be deferred on a section of land for two years.

■ Forestland: Promoting healthy watersheds, forest land health and fire recovery. Practices include erosion-control structures, forest thinning, fuel break and brush control. Priority will be given to those areas impacting drinking water supplies, stream water quality, property and life.

Producers statewide can apply for financial assistance, but applications will be prioritized and ranked based on identified resource concerns, percent of the operation to be enrolled and location of the operation in relation to the hardest hit drought areas.

Producers are encouraged to visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture service center in Pine Grove Plaza or call 970-879-3225, ext. 3, for help with drought-related issues.

Drought Resilience Improvement Project applications are due April 19. Additional program requirements and information are available at www.co.nrcs.usda.gov.

Christine Shook is a soil conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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