Community Agriculture Alliance: Will 2018 challenges lead to problems in 2019? | SteamboatToday.com

Community Agriculture Alliance: Will 2018 challenges lead to problems in 2019?

Has this been a dry summer?  While our winter and spring were not great, we fared better than many of our counterparts throughout Colorado. But with the hot and dry summer that has followed, we went this spring from a US Drought Monitor classification of 'abnormally dry' to a current classification of 'severe drought.'  So yes, it is dry out there.

While our growing season is wrapping up and we have gotten through it better than our neighbors in other parts of the state, the weather pattern makes us all wonder what 2019 will look like.  The truth is, whatever happens, we should be prepared for drought conditions every year because we live in the West and drought cycles are part of life.  Here are things you should consider every year to prepare for drought:

Do I have enough hay to get me through a tough year?

Because you want to maximize your income every year, it can be tempting to sell more hay than you should.  Keeping hay over a season, however, is important for drought planning and acts as an insurance policy should a season with less production occur. 

This year is a perfect example: Hay is selling for nearly twice as much as it did last year because demand is high and supply is short. Yes, it can be a pain to store it and keeping it from degrading takes covering in our climate, but scrambling to buy it when it is expensive and hard to find is challenging, too.

Can my pastures supply enough forage to get me through a rough summer? 

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Animals need the same amount of forage whether it is dry or not, so you need enough feed for the animals you have.  You can either sell cattle in a dry year or make sure you have pasture 'in reserve' for the tough times.  Managing pastures well in the good times can ensure that you have good grass growth in times of less moisture.

Rotating grazing and keeping a pasture that is not used every year can help too, meaning you have a place to graze that wasn't used the previous grazing season.  Make sure you don't over-use pastures in lean times, too: a short term gain can lead to long-term consequences that make a pasture unusable in the future.

Are my irrigation structures legal and in good repair?

Running water down a ditch is easy in times of plenty, but if there is a call on the river, you not only need senior rights, but a controllable structure and measuring device to use your water.  Make sure these are ready to go so you can use water when you need it the most.

Do I need to worry about grasshoppers? 

Grasshoppers are likely to survive well in dry years, and since there are quite a few in localized areas this year, next year could see high numbers if we don't get well-timed rains. Visit with your neighbors now and make a plan for coordinated control next year should the need arise.

We don't know what next year will bring, but with a little planning, you can survive dry years more easily.  While it's too late to worry about what you should have done to prepare for this year, it's not too late to prepare for the next by making thoughtful decisions.

Todd Hagenbuch is the director and agriculture agent for Colorado State University Extension office.