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Farm News & Views - December 28, 2021

As we close out this year, and look forward to 2022, a review of 2021 is in order. Probably the topic that was most often discussed here in the Four Corners in 2021 when farmers and ranchers gathered, was the drought. A dry fall in 2020, followed by a lower than normal snowpack in the mountains, left many irrigators with little to no water for crops and pastures in the spring. A year ago, according to Drought Monitor Maps, all of the Four of Corners Region was in extreme to severe drought, with those conditions extending to 80 to 90 percent of Arizona and Utah, most of western Colorado, about 60 percent of New Mexico, and much of the western half of the U.S. But good monsoon rains starting in July helped to improve pastures and rangeland in Arizona, New Mexico southern Utah and Colorado. Dry conditions in the West were also a factor in the 54,350 wildfires that burned 6.8 million acres of land in 2021, according to National Interagency Fire Center. While drought conditions still exist in the Four Corners states, the Drought Monitor map shows improvement over the drought conditions present in December of 2020, and the current snowpack is above average in Southeast Utah and Southwestern Colorado. However, the size of the snowpack as of April 1st in 2022 is what will count for water users next year.

According to income projections from the USDA net farm income is expected to be $22 billion more in 2022 than it was in 2020, led by higher grain and livestock prices, but with lower USDA direct program payments. The down side for this net farm income projection is uncertainty about input costs. As I’ve reported for the past couple of months, some fertilizer prices are at record high levels, and other crop inputs like seed, fuel, herbicides, and equipment repair costs are skyrocketing. So higher crop prices may be needed to just keep net farm income even with this year’s income.

Agriculture is often criticized for contributing to climate change because of livestock and crop production practices. But this month, according to a Successful Farming Magazine article, the Verbio North America plant in Nevada, Iowa, is using cornstalks that are chopped up and fed into large anaerobic digesters to produce natural gas that ends up in an Alliant Energy pipeline that traverses central Iowa. The process uses the bacteria found in livestock manure along with the chopped corn stalks to convert the corn residue into biomethane gas that’s equivalent to fossil fuel natural gas. The farmer who is supplying the corn stalks is getting a couple of benefits from supplying the stalks. The first is that the company is baling them into large square bales and paying him $8 for each of them. The second benefit is that because modern hybrid corn produces a large amount of crop residue, having about half of the corn stalks removed, will help the residue to decompose faster and in turn, reduce the number of tillage passes he needs to prepare the field for a new crop.

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each year find you a better man.”

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.