Agricultural economists at Colorado State University are surveying farmers and ranchers to better understand the impact of the 2012 drought on Colorado agriculture — and to design effective management tools for dry times ahead.
"The question we ultimately want to address is, 'How do we improve the resiliency of agriculture and rural communities in Colorado?' because we expect more drought," said James Pritchett, associate professor in the CSU Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, who is leading the survey project.
"It's time to make these systems more resilient, so they can adapt to changes ahead."
Colorado producers may complete the online questionnaire by visiting http://tinyurl.com/CSU-drought.
The CSU survey project, called "Telling the Story – Drought in Colorado," is funded with $35,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
Pritchett urges farmers and ranchers to complete the questionnaire by Jan. 1 so economists may begin compiling data shortly after the first of the year.
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 — a leading industry that contributes some $40 billion each year to the Colorado 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 Pritchett, who is a CSU Extension specialist in farm and ranch management. "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 dryland crops, such as wheat, or that rely on forage, Pritchett said. The latter group includes cow-calf operations 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.
"There are large deficits in precipitation and snowpack," the Colorado Climate Center, based at CSU, reported in its Colorado Drought Status Briefing this week. The briefing noted, however, that it is still early in the snow season.
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.