Showing posts with label agriculture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label agriculture. Show all posts

May 23, 2013

“We’re on the last kick,” he said. “The bulk water is gone.”

All my adult life, I have been hearing predictions that the Ogallala Aquifer (also called the High Plains Aquifer by people unsure how to pronounce "Ogallala"), a huge sponge of water under the High Plains, was dropping . . . dropping . . . dropping.

Fly east out of Colorado Springs and look at all the irrigated circles from center-pivot irrigation. They are growing corn, mostly.

Corn to feed to cattle in High Plains stockyards. Corn for ethanol (it's patriotic!) to make us energy independent so we won't be sending money to the Middle East.

All those wells pumping groundwater have led to this result.
Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers. . . . .

A shift to growing corn, a much thirstier crop than most, has only worsened matters. Driven by demand, speculation and a government mandate to produce biofuels, the price of corn has tripled since 2002, and Kansas farmers have responded by increasing the acreage of irrigated cornfields by nearly a fifth.  
From a US Geological Survey report, quoted at Coyote Gulch, the water blog:
The study shows that, since 2000, depletion of the High Plains aquifer appears to be continuing at a high rate. The depletion during the last 8 years of record (2001–2008, inclusive) is about 32 percent of the cumulative depletion in this aquifer during the entire 20th century. The annual rate of depletion during this recent period averaged about 10.2 cubic kilometers, roughly 2 percent of the volume of water in Lake Erie.
Maybe we will see more grass-fed beef (or buffalo?)  and more winter wheat in on the High Plains in the future. That's the optimistic outlook. But that slogan from the 1970s and 1980s, "A bushel of wheat for a barrel of oil!" is still just chest-thumping nonsense.

April 27, 2013

Advances in Colorado Agriculture

Image from
In far southeastern Colorado, a farmer plans the first legal hemp crop since the World War II era.
"I believe this is really going to revitalize and strengthen farm communities," said [Ryan] Loflin, 40, who grew up on a farm in Springfield but left after high school for a career in construction.

Now he returns, leasing 60 acres of his father's alfalfa farm to plant the crop and install a press to squeeze the oil from hemp seeds. He'll have a jump on other farmers, with 400 starter plants already growing at an indoor facility prior to transplanting them in the field.
M. and I were just discussing planting potatoes during breakfast. Grand Junction is lower and warmer than where we live, so people are already planting there.

One Grand Junction woman made an interesting discovery in her potato patch. All I ever found were old tin cans, etc. Some people have all the luck.

February 26, 2013

Mad Winter Tumbleweed Sex

A 2006 tumbleweed storm in Pueblo West, Colorado.

Brought from Russia in the 1870s by the Volga Germans or someone, bless their little hearts.

Q. What caliber for tumbleweeds?

A. Doesn't matter. When they die, they just spread their seeds.

February 06, 2013

Blog Stew — You Pack It Yourself

• The evolution of the external-frame backpack, starting with Ötzi. Some fascinating archaeological and historical examples.

• I was pleased when I got this "trophy" photo. But this one, on the other hand, is somewhere between "very interesting" and Paleolithic nightmare territory.

• Colorado wineries and farmers stall BLM energy leases in the North Fork Valley. The New West wins again.

January 30, 2013

Fremont County Corn

Someone was growing corn north of Cañon City in 1939, and she shows up in the famous Shorpy historic photo archive. Originally from a Resettlement Administration photo, part of the "New Deal," so maybe the woman in the photo was a refugee from the Dust Bowl, which was not that far away.

September 24, 2012

A Chinese Invader in American Agriculture

As bugs, stink bugs suck. They suck the juices out of plants. And then they stink — sort of like rotting apples but more repulsive.

We have our native brown stink bug — and I think it is going to be a good (in other words, bad) winter for them invading the house.

Now a Chinese stink bug is working its way across the country, as shown in this website devoted to the brown marmorated stink bug. Read all about 'em.

There is even a section for organic farmers.

August 06, 2012

Notes on Some Southern Colorado Farmers Markets

CCFA farmers market at Holy Cross Abbey, Cañon City
Our usual CSA farmer offered only spring shares this year, for various reasons, so last month M. and I were faced with making the rounds of farmers' markets to supplement our garden.

First we tried the Pueblo Riverwalk Famers Market, which starts a 4 p.m. on Thursdays for the after-work crowd. Once you sort out the artsies and craftsies, there were four food producers selling — all local, but non organic. The booths were jammed onto one sidewalk between Union Avenue and Victoria Street — one of the few spots with shade! We bought some Rocky Ford cantaloupe, which was riper than what the supermarket had.

On Thursday mornings you can try the Florence farmers market in shady Pioneer Park. It features one local organic producer (Lippis farm) plus some sellers of honey (sometimes), spices, goat cheese, and potted plants.

The Central Colorado Foodshed Alliance sponsors markets in Cañon City, Salida, and Buena Vista.

We visited the Cañon market a week ago — it is held on Saturdays — and came away with a few items, including some raspberry-chipotle jelly from Shirley Ann's Field Fresh Produce of Manzanola (down the Arkansas Valley east of Pueblo). Any economic activity in Manzanola needs to be encourage, and the jelly had a nice zing.  You can buy Shirley Ann's products online.

Check the CCFA site for more information about times, places, producers, etc.

Another market that we have not visited since last summer is held in Westcliffe on Thursdays from 2–5:30 p.m. Not too many vegetables are grown locally (compared to the early 20th century, when the Wet Mountain Valley produced lettuce, potatoes, sugar beets, and I don't know what all else—before refrigerated railroad cars brought everything from California). It should offer herbal remedies, local beef, and Amish (i.e., very sweet) baked goods along with veggies that are least Colorado-grown within the "foodshed."

July 31, 2012

Fighting Cheatgrass with Fungus

Whoever can stop cheatgrass deserves a Nobel prize and the thanks of a grateful continent.  A fungus holds some promise.
“Cheatgrass is a very insidious kind of biotic virus,” said Stephen Pyne, a Western fire historian at Arizona State University. “It takes over and rewrites the operating system. Because it grows earlier, it can burn earlier,” then in its regrowth “drive off all the other competitors. That makes for a complete overthrow of the system.” 

Mike Styler, head of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said simply: “It’s changed the entire ecology of the West.” 

But the black fingers of death — Pyrenophora semeniperda — may help restoration ecologists like Dr. Meyer reclaim some beachheads in the vast swath of land already conquered by cheatgrass.
I have been seeing it a lot more around here lately, thanks to two drought years in a row, which just makes me sick to contemplate.

May 27, 2012

Blog Stew, Hold the Vinclozolin

• Common agricultural chemical has multi-generational effect on rats, suggested as cause of rising autism rates, obesity.

• "Green jobs" are not appearing as promised. In fact, this article says that wind-energy jobs have fallen, although wind energy production is up. (So it's a mature industry?)

• To live today means balancing beauty and destruction: Chris Clarke on the Golden Gate Bridge.

April 09, 2012

The Literary Field—One with Trees and Nameless Indians

I found this New York Times travel piece, "A Taos Field Evokes the Extraordinary" to be both interesting and frustrating.

Writer Henry Shukman is both connected to the place yet, in important ways, so disconnected.
The field is the kind of small, almost accidental place that, for visitors and residents alike, seems to quietly capture the essence of the entire area. In northern California, it might be a hidden stretch of rocky beach; in upstate New York, it might be an untouched stretch of woodland beyond the garden fences at the end of a small-town street. For me, in Taos, it was this field. 
And so on. He meditates on Taos Mountain, sees a group of Taos Pueblo men drumming and singing in the field and while napping in the field has "a vivid dream" wherein "an old tribal man" gives him a special message.

But whose field is it? What is its agricultural use? I would not want to see it turned into a Family Dollar store any more than Shukman would, but I was frustrated by the essentially literary appreciation. You read about famous artists, but the landowner is missing. So are the birds and plants (except cottonwood trees).

Still, the message of "notice the unappreciated" place is worth hearing.

Pesticide Linked to Bee Colony Collapse

Pesticide residues are a leading cause of bee colony collapse disorder (CCD), says a report in Harvard Science.
Pinpointing the cause of the problem is crucial because bees — beyond producing honey — are prime pollinators of roughly one-third of the crop species in the United States, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and livestock feed such as alfalfa and clover. Massive loss of honeybees could result in billions of dollars in agricultural losses, experts estimate.

[Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology in the Department of Environmental Health] and his co-authors hypothesized that the uptick in CCD resulted from the presence of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid introduced in the early 1990s. Bees can be exposed in two ways: through nectar from plants or through high-fructose corn syrup beekeepers use to feed their bees. (Since most U.S.-grown corn has been treated with imidacloprid, it’s also found in corn syrup.)
Now you can expect wailing about how civilization will end without the use of imidacloprid.

March 16, 2012

"Really Darn Good" Colorado Wine

A year ago, Gary Vaynerchuk devoted a Daily Grape episode to Colorado wines, concentrating on Guy Drew Vineyards near Cortez, and pronounced their Metate blend "really darn good," after admitting that "we [whoever 'we' are] don't really think of Colorado as a serious producer of wine."

A little over the top, but worth three minutes. "The fruit is very flush and very New World," at least I think that is what he said.

M. and visited the vineyards two years ago. We thought the wines were really darn good too.

February 12, 2012

Revisiting the "Buffalo Commons"

Back in the 1980s, two New Jersey professors raised a ruckus on the High Plains by arguing that, given falling populations and the gradual depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, the plains should be given over to some combination of parks and a different, non-irrigated agriculture including buffalo ranching, activities that would support a smaller but sustainable population—a concept known as the Buffalo Commons.

Few people wanted to hear that. Not only was it coming from New Jersey professors who by definition could not know anything about anything, but it was a slap in the face to the whole survivor mythos of the High Plains—that the people there had survived grasshopper plagues, droughts, blizzards, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, ups and downs in commodity prices, isolation, and indeed, a gradual decline from the "good years," the first two decades of the 20th century. In general, they reacted angrily to the proposal that they "surrender."

But population was falling:
Their continuing research showed that hundreds of counties in the American West still have less than a sparse 6 persons per square mile — the density standard Frederick Jackson Turner used to declare the American Frontier closed in 1893. Many have less than 2 persons per square mile.

The frontier never came close to disappearing, and in fact has expanded in the Plains in recent years. The 1980 Census showed 388 frontier counties west of the Mississippi. The 1990 Census shows 397 counties in frontier status, and the 2000 Census showed 402. Most of this frontier expansion is in the Great Plains. Kansas actually has more land in frontier status than it did in 1890.

My personal connection: in the early 1920s, the era of prosperity, my maternal grandparents as a young couple ran a store in the High Plains town of Arriba, Colorado (pr. "AIR-a-buh"). When I saw Arriba in the 1970s, it had no business district at all except a Flying J truck stop and an antiques store. Now there is a wind farm too. My grandparents got out before the collapse, but it caught up to them elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the professors, Frank and Deborah Popper, geographer and urban planner (yes, ironic) have not given up on the Buffalo Commons idea.

At a recent conference in Salina, Kansas, Frank Popper said, "We never really expected it to have the impact it did and does. We would have recoiled then that we would still be talking about it 23 years later. It's clear that in the intervening years a quiet muscle of reality, a lot of the trends we saw in the depopulation of the Plains has continued."
"I've been accused of having a slightly un-American approach to the land and the environment, where growth is not always the be-all and end-all, where growth can go too far, and the Buffalo Commons implies a quietism or defeatism," Frank Popper said. "Instead, the Buffalo Commons implies too much growth can be a mistake, overburdening the land, overmastering the environment and in the end always getting kicked in the rear or the pocketbook--or someplace else.

"I realize there is a social comedy in two people from back east who are telling people in the Plains what to do with their land. I've enjoyed it, but there are important things to look at in how we treat this vast, characteristically American chunk of land. There are lessons here on how to live on the land that can be applied to the Corn Belt, the lower Mississippi delta, and parts of our largest cities--like Detroit--that are depopulating like the Plains. It's about sustainability. It's about being American."
 Some politicians are quietly coming around, he notes, and a Great Plains National Park "may actually happen."

December 01, 2011

Obama Administration Lifts Horse-Slaughter Ban

President Obama recently signed a law ending the ban on horse-slaughter plants.
A June report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress‘ chief investigative branch, said the ban depressed prices for horses in the U.S. and led to a surge in reports of neglect or abuse as owners of older horses had no way of disposing of them, short of selling them to “foreign slaughtering facilities where U.S. humane slaughtering protections do not apply.”
The usual suspects are upset.
A bill to ban horse slaughter and export of horses for slaughter has been introduced in the House and Senate, and the Humane Society of the United States said it would redouble its efforts to try to enact that legislation.
Simply, there are more horses in the United States than people want. I have heard of livestock auctions imposing additional fees on people wanting to sell horses, because your average saddle horse does not sell for very much — if it sells at all.

Horse-rescue operations can take only a few of the unwanted animals.

Meanwhile, despite its much-touted adoption programs, the BLM is feeding and storing hundreds of wild horses in corrals away from the public gaze, as I blogged in 2008. Your tax dollars at work.

Still the HSUS plays the cultural-taboo card, together with a little fashionable France-bashing:
Michael Markarian, who oversees the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which lobbies for animal protections, said any state that allows a horse-slaughter plant to open will face pressure.

“People will not be happy about their community potentially bringing in one of these plants,” he said. “Americans don’t eat horses, and don’t want them butchered and shrink-wrapped and sent to France or Japan as a delicacy.”
Because all the feasible alternatives, like letting them starve, are so much better.

Related — if you want to move to the theoretical — an article on meat taboos with an interesting response from Boria Sax.

August 27, 2011

The Well-Traveled Sunflower

Sunflowers originated in the Western Hemisphere, yet one of the most popular varieties is called the Mammoth Russian. It's a plant with a transoceanic history.

May 05, 2011

Dry Times on the Southern Plains—Boise City, Oklahoma

I recently mentioned how drought has hit southeastern Colorado, heart of the 1930s Dust Bowl.

A few miles south in the Oklahoma Panhandle, it is as bad or worse.
With a drought continuing to punish much of the Great Plains, this one stands out. Boise (rhymes with voice) City has gone 222 consecutive days through Tuesday with less than a quarter-inch of rainfall in any single day, said Gary McManus, a state climatologist. That is the longest such dry spell here since note-keeping began in 1908.
Population is falling, businesses closing, etc. If you want to be left alone, do like some of the outlaws of old and move to Cimarron County, Oklahoma.

Some people are stubborn:
But the Sharps are committed to ranching. “The land is like a member of the family,” Ms. Sharp said. “You don’t disown it if things aren’t going right.” 
On the other hand, the overall economic picture is not good at all. It sounds like another piece of the depopulation of the High Plains that has been going on for decades.

Historical Footnote: Boise City has a unique distinction of having been bombed by American forces during World War II.
The B-17 made another pass and dropped a second bomb that struck the white framed Baptist church, exploding beside the building and breaking out several windows. The crater was three feet deep.

April 28, 2011

Waiting Out the Drought in Baca County, Colorado

The Pueblo Chieftain reports on the mood in Baca County, the southeast corner of Colorado, where it touches Kansas and Oklahoma.

The winter wheat needs rain, and farmers are waiting for moisture before planting corn, milo, and sunflowers.
The cattle herds—culled already during the 2002 drought and the blizzards of 2006-07—are threatened, with some ranchers already talking about reduction. There are more than 50,000 head in the county.

One of the consequences of drought could be to close federal grazing leases on the Comanche grasslands, which will be evaluated according to the conditions on a case-by-case basis. The county commissioners are studying whether to ask for disaster relief, which could open Conservation Reserve Program ground to grazing.

“It’s dry. People haven’s sold off cattle, but it’s coming,” said Carlos Crane, a Campo-area rancher.
It's the heart of the 1930s Dust Bowl, but we have learned some lessons since then.

April 01, 2011

Birds Do It, Bees Do It, So We'll See You in Court

Organic farmers sue Monsanto.

[Genetically modified] crops have another interesting quality -- you can "use" a patented gene without even knowing it. When you download and share music and movies on peer-to-peer networks or plagiarize blog posts or books, let's face it -- you know what you're doing. But if you're a farmer, GMO seeds can literally blow in to your fields on the breeze or just the pollen from GMO crops can blow in (or buzz in via bees) and contaminate your organic or "conventional" fields. And if that happens, Monsanto or Syngenta or Bayer CropLife maintain the right to sue you as if you had illegally bought their seed and knowingly planted it.

Regardless of what you think about genetically modified crops, it has always seemed perverted to sue other growers for "patent infringement" after "patented" pollen has drifted onto their plants, thanks to the wind. But that has happened in the past.

If the suit is successful, not only will it limit Monsanto's ability to sue farmers, the company will have far greater responsibility for how and where its biotech seeds are planted. The regulatory free ride will be over. While that won’t eliminate GMO crops, it will at least give organic farmers a hope of avoiding contamination.

October 15, 2010

Grapes Among the Ruins: A McElmo Canyon Vineyard

Looking at the books on sale at the Navajo National Monument visitor center, M. commented on how books about Navajo art, culture, etc. were on one side while pertaining to the Hopis and other Pueblo peoples were on the other.

Books on ethnobotany were on both sides, however, and I went away with one:Wild Plants and Native People of the Four Corners.

We always want to learn more about Southwestern gardening and to expand our knowledge of useful plants. In fact, the book inspired me to one experiment that I hope to blog later.

As for the Anasazi, who built the cliff dwellings that the monument preserves, they ate mush. Corn mush, ricegrass mush, bean mush, whatever. It sounds like the most boring (and nutritionally risky) diet ever on which to construct large stone buildings, trek across the landscape on ceremonial pathways, and otherwise carry on daily life.

If I am correct, a thousand years ago they did not even have chile peppers to give the mush some zing.

Animal protein? No buffalo in the area, just deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope. Given the high population levels before the Great Collapse, which must have meant a lot of agile hunters with bows and throwing sticks, I suspect that those animals numbers were low and that venison was a rare treat indeed.

Even if you brought down a cottontail rabbit with your throwing stick, it probably had to be split eight ways.

But if they had grown grapes, their joie de vivre might have improved.

Switch on the alternative-history machine: Spanish explorers in the 16th century encounter Pueblo peoples whose cool, inmost rooms contain big clay ollas decorated in black-on-white Chaco designs where the wine is stored.

Later arrivals bring other European grapes, and in protected regions of the San Juan plateau the vineyards thrive. Chaco Canyon becomes  known for its chardonnay ...

OK, that is fantasy but Guy Drew Vineyards is not. In just twelve years, with liberal application of water and money, Guy and Ruth have created an excellent winery, one of several in the area. See the "Four Corners" listing here. Lots of people are growing grapes for the new wineries.

Coming home from the Kayenta Plateau, we stopped there, sampled the reds, and left with several bottles, supplemented with the partial bottle of their Petit Verdot from dinner that night at Nero's Restaurant in Cortez.

When I see vineyards, I see permanent habitation and local culture, something that ought to last as long as "great houses" and ceremonial trackways, maybe longer. It's a hopeful sign.

October 09, 2010

Why Bo Won't Heel & Other Snippets

• The Obamas' dog Bo joins a long line of untrained White House dogs. The reason is simple, writes Patrick Burns. Burns' linked photo says it all.

• The feds give Colorado $450,000 to lease "walk-in access" hunting rights on private agricultural land. In an age of big farms and absentee owners, plus the usual urban-rural disconnect, this is a good thing. And as the next item mentions, upland bird hunting (and small game too) get no respect from outdoor marketers.

• Or in Jay Kumar's words, "Why has everyone given up on the upland bird market?"
If you don't believe me, here's a comment left on a Field & Stream blog: "Now everyone is antler and gobbler crazy. It's what's on TV. It's what's hyped up in the ads. There is no record book or super slam for grouse. A fine morning of wingshooting isn't cool or awesome or fist-pumpy. You can't use the latest tech or signature gear. You have to like, walk around in the brush. That's no fun anymore."
• The Denver Post frets that beetle-killed lodgepole pine are not being removed fast enough in northern Colorado.

Some foresters, however, suggest that as these standing dead trees lose their limbs, they actually become less of a fire hazard than dense, live conifers. Although the Post's story mentions one fire, we have not seen "the big one" in the beetle-killed stands.

And there is the money issue:
One challenge facing contractors is getting rid of the cut trees. Timber mills in Montrose and the San Luis Valley and a pellet factory in Kremmling have been hard-pressed to pay loggers enough to make that tree-removal work profitable.