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Drought is taking toll on ranchers and farmers

As we approach the midpoint of summer, the results of the drought are really starting to show their effects to the farmers and ranchers of Southwest Colorado.

Because of limited or no irrigation water this year for crops and hay fields, many fields will not produce any forage for hay or grazing. This lack of feed is leaving livestock owners looking at some hard decisions for the coming winter. While the monsoon moisture that we have received recently may keep the grass from dying, the limited quantity will have little effect on producing additional feed.

During the 37 years that I have been farming in La Plata County, these last few years have been extremely tough on Pam and me as we try and produce our lambs and wool. While we continue to be able to produce enough hay for our winter needs, we have not had enough pasture grass to get us through the summer and fall the last two years.

We recently sold some of our older ewes to reduce the size of our flock. But with only about three weeks of pasture left, we have decided that we must cut our flock in half. The process of deciding which ewes will stay and which ones will go will be tough.

The changes in our climate are truly having a major effect on the agriculture of the West. In our semiarid region, irrigation water is the lifeblood of our industry. Without heavy winter snows to provide for our summer irrigation water, many farmers and ranchers are not going to be able to survive in the business for many more years.

To get an idea of how far the water supply in the Animas River has decreased during the last five years, turn to the back of The Durango Herald and study the graph of the Animas River flows in the weather report. The total flows have greatly decreased during the last five years, and flows have dropped much earlier in the year compared to the long-term average. With the warmer temperatures also occurring, the crops as well as the native vegetation are being severely stressed because of the lack of soil moisture in late summer and fall.

As I watch the rain clouds build over the La Platas, my hopes are for a continued monsoon season that will lead us into a white and snowy winter as in the good old days.

Doug Ramsey has farmed in La Plata County for more than 35 years. He can be reached at 385-4375.

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