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Farm News & Views - October 4, 2022

News reports of the damage that Hurricane Ian left in its wake after hitting Florida last week have mainly been focused on homes and businesses, but Florida farmers in major fruit and vegetable-producing regions of the state suffered widespread destruction from the storm. Since Florida's ag sector is a major supplier of winter produce for the rest of the U.S., this damage is expected to affect supplies and the price of fresh food in grocery stores for months to come. Florida’s Department of Agriculture reported that in southern parts of the state where the hurricane hit, farmers believe that they have a 100 percent crop loss as it tore through the state's citrus region where 400,000 of Florida's 450,000 citrus acres have been impacted, tomato farmers have lost entire crops, a large dairy reported that over 200 head of cows had perished, and widespread power outages are impacting greenhouses, produce storage and milking operations that are struggling to stay up and running. More than half of the state was impacted by the storm, including areas nowhere near the coast due to wind and flooding, and inland farms in central Florida are still battling rising floodwaters. Strawberry farms that were initially spared by Ian are now water-logged and farmers are delaying planting.

As if that news isn’t enough, the threat of highly pathogenic avian influenza is rising again in the West, as migratory birds cross the region heading south. Multiple new outbreaks in the Inter-mountain states have been reported in the past few weeks, and agriculture officials throughout the region are reminding owners of poultry flocks to take precautions. Colorado State Veterinarian Dr. Maggie Baldwin points out that bio-security practices are the best method to prevent introduction of this highly contagious and fatal disease into domestic flocks. Baldwin said that "HPAI is a disease with high mortality that can wipe out an entire domestic poultry flock in less than 72 hours, and that the most important thing bird owners can do right now is to limit interaction between their flocks and wild birds.” An outbreak of HPAI in Colorado last spring caused a 25% drop in the state's egg production. Outbreaks are also beginning to occur in Utah, where state officials recently reported the fourth case of the disease at a turkey farm in Sanpete County in central Utah. Montana confirmed its 11th case of HPAI in Teton County on September 13th, and in all, nine states have confirmed infections in domestic poultry flocks since September 1st.

Lately, I’ve had several people tell me that they had heard that the Four Corners Region is going to have a lot of snow this winter. Checking the National Weather Service and at least a half dozen other creditable weather forecast sites, I found that they are all predicting that a La Nina weather pattern will be in play for the third year in a row. This indicates that having abnormally high snow fall in the Region is unlikely, since La Nina sends moisture laden winter storms across the northern U.S., rather than further south, where high mountain peaks in California and the central and southern Rocky Mountains wring the moisture out of the clouds to be saved in snow packs for the dry summer months. I hope I’ll have to eat these words come next spring.

I recently ran across this bit of weather wisdom and have noticed that it may be true. Hawks flying high means a clear sky. When they fly low, prepare for a blow.

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.