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Farm News & views - September 27, 2022

As we’ve moved into fall, drought is still persistent in the Four Corners States, although in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico drought conditions have improved a bit over the past three months, but drought still continues to plague virtually all of Utah. At the same time, other areas in the country are also dry, for example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reporting that water levels on the Lower Mississippi River are dangerously low in some areas and may slow or even stop barge traffic just as corn and soybean harvest starts in the upper Midwest, which may impact movement of grain to gulf coast terminals this fall.

Pasture and range conditions are better than what we might expect in the Four Corners Region when we look at drought monitor maps, probably because of the timely monsoon rain events we’ve received over the past couple of months. Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona grazing lands are rated from 48% to over 70% fair to good, and 15% of them are rated as excellent. Utah grazing lands are rated fair to good, with none of them in the excellent classification. Farmers in the normally rainy Mid Atlantic and Northeast states are also seeing dry pasture conditions, with pastures rated from poor to very poor in Massachusetts, Delaware and Connecticut, and in Rhode Island they’re rated 100% very poor.

Farming in the southwest presents some unique challenges, and the High Desert Conservation District has announced a Master Land Steward class that will start on October 27th. Class sessions include water management, soil health, noxious weed control, fire preparedness, drought management, and farm economics. Participants will develop a management plan for their own property by the end of the class. Contact the High Desert Conservation District for more information or to sign up for the class.

Most folks enjoy their shade trees during the summer, while grumbling about the leaves when they drop in the fall. So they get out their rakes or leaf vacuums towed behind lawn tractors to get them off of their pristine lawns. But agronomists point out that leaves are an underutilized natural resource, one of the most readily-available forms of organic matter and the cheapest fertilizer on the market. During the spring and summer, trees pull nutrients and minerals up from the soil and convert them into new leaves and branches. These nutrients and minerals are returned to the top soil when the leaves fall off the trees and decompose on the ground. Pound for pound, the leaves of most trees contain twice as many nutrients as manure when they are transformed into a rich humus by worms, bacteria and other microorganisms in the soil. A healthy earthworm population can drag a 1-inch layer of organic matter into their underground burrows in a few months, providing both aeration and fertilizer for your soil while you enjoy a cold drink while watching some football games on the TV. If you just have got to do something with those unsightly leaves, mulch them up using a special mulching blade on your mower or pile them onto flower or garden beds and let them protect the plants from winter freeze and thaw cycles.

American naturalist and essayist John Burroughs wrote, “How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.”

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.