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Farm News & Views - May 2, 2023

As we move into May, the Drought Monitor map indicates that drought has retreated in western Colorado, Southeast Utah, most of Arizona, and parts of northwest New Mexico. States east of the Mississippi River from north to south are also mostly free of dry conditions, which is driving farmer optimism in the Corn Belt and southeast farm country. But in the middle of the country, drought is still hanging on, and in western Kansas, southeast Colorado, the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, the level of drought matches or exceeds the lack of rainfall that led to the 1930s dust bowl catastrophe. Climate scientists point out that deserts are commonly defined as places that get fewer than 10 inches of rain a year, and for this past year, much of western Kansas and adjoining states slipped into that desolate category. Last week’s Drought Monitor Map shows that about 2/3 of Kansas is in exceptional drought.

Probably the one factor that has kept some farmers from having complete crop failures in the region is because they have been able to apply some irrigation water from the Ogallala Aquifer, which is one of the largest aquifers in the world. The 174,000 square mile shallow water table aquifer is surrounded by sand, silt, clay, and gravel located beneath South central South Dakota, much of Nebraska, south east Wyoming, eastern Colorado, western Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, portions of eastern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle. But the bad news is that water is getting drawn down faster than it’s being replenished in parts of aquifer, which has encouraged water managers to attempt to find ways to reduce demand in the future so that the water supply isn’t completely depleted.

The Dust Bowl, exacerbated by poor farming practices, led to the largest migration in U.S. history, and is reported that by 1940, two and a half million people had moved out of the plains states. When wind picked up an estimated three million tons of soil from the U.S. Great Plains and carried it to the east coast and Washington D.C. on Black Sunday, April 14th, 1935, it finally got the attention of congress, and is often cited as the reason that the U.S. Soil Conservation service was established. But soil scientists point out that the country is still losing valuable topsoil. Estimates are that over 628 billion tons of topsoil and carbon has been lost to wind erosion over the past 150 years.

Since Cinco de Mayo is coming up this week, I’ll mention Jeff Miller’s book, Avocado, A Global History. Miller is an associate professor in Colorado State University’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. Miller contends that avocados’ popularity has led to massive consumption causing the “water hogs” to be grown in places they shouldn’t be cultivated, which has led to problems associated with irrigation, deforestation, loss of wildlife, and avocados from Mexico are frequently “taxed” by drug dealers. In addition, the oyamel fir forests, which are critical to survival of the monarch butterfly as a species, are being cut down to plant avocado orchards. Miller also points out that avocados are not the nutritional superfood that some people make them out to be. He suggests that avocados should be a special occasion food, and that buyers purchase avocados that are grown in the U.S. rather than buying imported fruit.

A wiseguy said: “When life gives you avocados, make guacamole!”

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.