Thursday, April 12, 2018

Parts of U.S. face extreme drought, which increases wildfire risk and drives up costs of farming and ranching

A wildfire in Glazier, Tex., near the heart of the biggest exceptional drought area. (Canadian Record/Laurie E. Brown)
Several areas of the U.S. are facing extreme or exceptional drought conditions this year, threatening crops and increasing chances of another destructive wildfire season.

"According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recently released U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, persisting and additional drought is forecast through June in California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. The impact is forecast to be especially strong in Arizona and New Mexico, both of which are already almost entirely in the grip of drought," Spencer Chase reports for Agri-Pulse. Michael Crimmins of the University of Arizona's Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science told Chase that the weather conditions are drying up rangelands and hurting livestock operations.

The Colorado River watershed overall is experiencing one of its driest winters ever, which will hurt downstream farms that depend on irrigation. Paul Gutierrez, a livestock economics expert at New Mexico State University, said farmers will need to use more well water for irrigation if less surface water is available. "It definitely makes the cost of farming go up significantly," Gutierrez told Chase. "The quality isn’t as good either and it impacts the yields of some of your specialty crops."

In the Texas Panhandle, where drought conditions have reached the highest level, firefighters have already battled two wind-propelled wildfires in the past weeks, and more could follow soon, Laurie Ezzell Brown reports for The Canadian Record, in a town named for the Canadian River.

Some parts of the east are suffering too. On April 5, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue declared four Virginia counties (Shenandoah, Frederick, Warren, Page, and Rockingham) as well as Hardy County in West Virginia primary counties for a drought disaster. Lack of rain last fall hurt pasture growth, small grains and hay fields, and during the winter some farmers discovered their wells were going dry, Matthew Sasser reports for The Breeze, James Madison University's student-run newspaper. That's the sort of lingering effect that doesn't show up on the U.S. Drought Monitor map:
United States Drought Monitor map as of April 5, 2018; click on the image for a larger version.

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