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Farm News & Views for the week of June 3, 2024

Last week’s U.S. Drought Monitor Map continues to show fewer areas of the country impacted by drought, with almost 75% of the U.S. now free of drought conditions due to abundant rainfall this spring. At this time last year, 50% of the U.S. was suffering from drought. However, abnormally dry to moderate drought is affecting the Four Corners Region, all of New Mexico, and about 80% of Arizona. But the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is forecasting that there will be a transition from El Niño to a La Niña weather pattern over the next two to three months here in the southwestern U.S. According to NOAA, a full transition to La Niña will likely occur during this summer. This transition is the primary driver for NOAA's summer outlook, which calls for the highest chance of warmer-than-average temperatures in the western U.S. and across the southern Plains into the western Gulf Coast. NOAA is predicting that this transition has a 49% chance that it may develop between June to August, and a 69% chance of La Niña developing between July to September. Looking further into the future, the National Weather Service points out that a La Niña winter usually means dry, warmer-than-average conditions across the southern half of the country. The Pacific Northwest and Ohio Valley tend to get more precipitation, and northern states can see extra-cold weather.

AgriSafe is a national nonprofit that works to reduce skin cancer cases in farmers and ranchers, as well other occupational illnesses that affect agricultural workers. While exposure to the sun may not be a problem to people who spend most of their day inside, agricultural workers are at risk of developing skin cancer because their outside work encourages them to wear short sleeve shirts and baseball caps. AgriSafe recommends that farm workers wear clothing with ultraviolet protection factor or UPF rating of at least 30. For example, a white T-shirt only has a protection factor of 5, which equates to about one fifth of the sun’s ultraviolet rays reaching your skin. The UPF rating for blue jeans is 1,700, which is why cowboys always stand out at the beach when they show up wearing swimming suits. Farmers often wear ball caps, which allows their ears and side of their faces to get way too much sun, which can lead to development of skin cancers. Cowboys have an advantage there, because their uniform usually includes a broad brim hat. AgriSafe recommends that agricultural workers wear hats with a minimum of a three inch brim during the sunny summer.

A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting with a former student of mine who told me that although he didn’t have a large herd of cattle, he needed to finish branding his calves. Although some folks may think that branding cattle is a thing of the past, it’s still an important task on ranches today. While electronic ear tags are becoming more commonly used in cattle herds, most commercial cattlemen in the west also put hot brands on their cattle to make sure that they can prove ownership if the animals are lost or stolen. In Colorado cattle and horses have to have a brand inspection before they’re sold. As an old cowboy pointed out, “Them cows can lose their ear tags, but they can’t shed their brand. “

Aristotle wrote, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

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.