A cow crosses Morapos Creek in southern Moffat County near Hamilton in summer. After the dryness experienced by Northwest Colorado and much of the rest of the state, recent flooding on the Front Range and surrounding areas drastically has altered the weather scene and will impact the state's agriculture industry significantly.

Photo by Andy Bockelman

A cow crosses Morapos Creek in southern Moffat County near Hamilton in summer. After the dryness experienced by Northwest Colorado and much of the rest of the state, recent flooding on the Front Range and surrounding areas drastically has altered the weather scene and will impact the state's agriculture industry significantly.

Agricultural impact of Colorado flooding will be ‘significant’

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— Just as a ripple in a pond can have far-reaching effects, heavy rains in one location can hit hard even miles away in an entirely different fashion other than just bad weather.

The recent flooding along Colorado’s Front Range and surrounding areas could have a negative impact on the rest of the state — including Northwest Colorado.

“It’s going to hurt us is what it comes down to,” said J.D. Sexton, director for Colorado State University’s Moffat County Extension Office.

The flood's impact on the agriculture of Weld County in particular will have a statewide effect, Sexton said.

“Even whatever isn’t already underwater, there’s just no way they’re going to be able to harvest any of those crops,” he said. “I would say they’ll be hit the hardest just because of the amount of farming that occurs there, not only with corn but onions and sugar beets and all kinds of different things. It’s just completely taken away their way of life.”

Sexton said the resulting diminished output of livestock feed from the afflicted area is only half the story.

“The hay market’s going to be affected because a lot of the state’s hay will have to go to those animals to try to get them by,” he said.

Sexton said he was unsure how many Northwest Colorado farmers and ranchers would be able to pitch in providing relief.

“The problem for us is a lot of our hay’s already gone,” he said. “We were in the circumstance here that we didn’t have much of a stockpile because it’s been so dry. It’s gone from too dry to being on fire to too wet.”

The bearing of the flooding will be multifaceted, Sexton said.

“It’s going to influence our markets in grain prices and livestock prices,” he said. “In one way or another, it’ll influence everybody in the state.”

Locally, ranchers already are anticipating blowback. Melody Villard said the lambs of Villard Ranch are scheduled to be shipped to Eaton later this month.

“We don’t know if the feedlots over there are going to be an issue or not,” she said.

Besides the overall uncertainty of safety in the area, the routes to northern Colorado and the Front Range are a cause for concern.

“That could really affect us if they have to find somewhere else to go,” Villard said.

She added that the impact the flooding will have a "trickle-down effect" on agriculture businesses ranging from ranching to dairies that likely will spill over into next year.

"Next spring, I'm not sure if it will be dried out over there. It will probably still be really wet and boggy," she said.

Although Weld County, Boulder, Estes Park and other communities have seen significant devastation from rain and flooding, the ranchers of those areas have been able to cope well, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

“As far as animals and livestock, it’s certainly affected the lower-lying areas, but farmers and ranchers are so good about taking care of their needs and their problems either by themselves or neighbors helping neighbors,” said Nick Striegel, assistant state veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture. “They’re really good about taking care of their animals, especially those along the Platte, and they’ve been able to move to higher ground. It didn’t catch them by surprise in the Eastern plains because they saw what was happening in the mountains and foothills.”

Striegel said agriculture experts will be assessing the situation in the coming weeks, but calculating the damages is a difficult matter.

Rebuilding also will be tough, said Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

“The infrastructure loss is what’s going to be significant, whether it’s fences, buildings, equipment, irrigation, what have you,” he said. “A lot of those aren’t covered by insurance.”

Fankhauser said grazing lands will not be in as bad of shape as in other years thanks to late summer moisture.

“That’s been something they can rely on as they move cattle back around,” he said. “The industry is resilient.”

The Cattlemen’s Association will attempt to help however it can, Fankhauser said.

“Historically, the one thing we’ve learned is that people on the ground have the best idea of what they need. Our best job is to ask them,” he said. “If they say, ‘We need to find fence supplies,’ we’ll help coordinate that. If they tell us nothing, we stand ready to do something.”

Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

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