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Farm News & Views - December 7, 2021

The snow we saw on the mountains here in southwest Colorado in October has mostly disappeared, and along with low water levels in reservoirs that support the Colorado River system, a lot of folks are concerned about whether we’ll see an already bad drought intensify in 2022. Upper Colorado River Basin SNOTEL Snow/Precipitation Update Reports reveal that as of December 6th, southwest Colorado has the lowest snowpack in 22 years with about 30% of the normal snow. The snowpack for this date in 1999 was 30 inches, but by April 1st of 2000 the snowpack was 113% of average. This pattern of boom and bust snow packs, with a winter of low snowpack, followed by two or three years of average or better snowpacks, seemed to be the norm for the last couple of decades. This pattern has worked for water users who depend on reservoirs to level out water supplies. However, over the past five years, we’ve had four winters when snowpack was below average and only the winter of 2019 when the snowpack was above average. So going into the winter of 2022, it’s hard to predict how this winter will play out, considering that we’re in the second year of a La Nina weather pattern that often leaves the southern half of the U.S. dry, while dumping lots of snow across the northern states. But when we compare snowfall over the past 25 years, with the winters when La Nina was in play, it looks like we might make as accurate of a prediction of how much snow to expect this winter using tea leaves as we would by assuming that the 2022 La Nina winter will be dry.

To illustrate how dry it’s been this fall in some parts of Colorado, the National Weather Service has reported that Denver has gone 229 days without measurable snowfall, breaking a record that dates back to 1882. In those 139 years, Denver has never entered December without measurable snow, and the record for the latest first snowfall will likely be set this week if it snows in Denver on Thursday evening as predicted by the National Weather Service. But Colorado looks representative of the rest of the country at the start of meteorological winter on December 1st, with just over 11% of the United States being covered in snow.

As the holidays are fast approaching, it may be nice to know that Christmas tree growers are ready for a big season in 2021. Although there are a lot of shortages across the country, there’s a good supply of real Christmas trees this year according to the National Christmas Tree Association. The Association estimates that approximately 25 to 30 million real trees are sold across the U.S. annually. There’s also some good news for farmers and ranchers that comes from USDA’s Economic Research Service. The recently released 2021 Farm Sector Income Forecast predicts that calendar year 2021 net farm income will be $116.8 billion. That’s a 23% increase from 2020 profits and the highest inflation-adjusted profit level farmers have earned since 2013. The report states that the main driver of this uptick in farm incomes is higher commodity prices.

American humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw, also know as Josh Billings, wrote, “There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory.”

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.