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Weather makes agriculture a gambler’s game

If you are in agriculture, you have to be a gambler. As I look back over the last year or so, I am amazed at all the strange weather events that have wreaked havoc on our fields and livestock. From droughts to floods to blizzards, many farmers and ranchers have taken a beating.

Locally, we have faced a spring drought with moisture levels far below normal that limited our irrigation, dried up our pastures and forced many ranchers to sell off livestock. Then along came July and our monsoons that provided two to three times the normal rainfall that damaged many hay crops and led to localized flooding.

As a data geek, I have been having some fun looking at the recent weather data for La Plata County and getting a better idea about how fickle our weather has been.

A little background information will help put our past year in perspective. Durango averages about 19 inches of precipitation a year, with it pretty evenly spread out throughout the months and seasons.

As we entered last fall, 2012 had been a pretty dry year, and we continued that trend for most of 2013. October 2012 gave us a hint of what was coming with only one storm and 0.1 inch of rain, according to the National Weather Service.

From October through December 2012, a total of only 2.13 inches of moisture fell, about 42 percent of average. As winter rolled on toward spring, we stayed on the dry side with only 2.61 inches of moisture from January through March, only 54 percent of average.

At this point, the farmers and ranchers in our area were beginning to worry about the coming summer. Reservoirs in the area were very low, and soil moisture was lacking. As spring arrived, the area continued to dry up and the wildfires began. April to June continued the trend with only 1.06 inches of rain, about 33 percent of average. To compound things, from May 12 until June 29 we had a 49-day stretch with no precipitation.

From October 2012 to June 2013, the drought had played its cards pretty well with a measly 5.80 inches of moisture delivered (only 44 percent of average) compared with our long-term average of 13.11 inches.

If you play poker long enough, you’ll eventually get a break. With the summer monsoons came some increasing moisture. July and August brought us some good rains and were just about average.

With September, came some heavy rains along with floods and large hail as 4.78 inches of moisture fell (about 270 percent of average). These last three months of precipitation have been beneficial to farmers and ranchers as our grass and crops finally have gotten a needed drink before winter. The 6.99 inches of precipitation in just these three months overwhelms the meager 5.80 inches that had fallen in the previous nine months.

As they have for more than 100 years, the farmers and ranchers of our area will continue to play the cards that have been dealt and take another gamble next year on what the weather will bring.

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

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