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Drought assistance available for region

The U.S. Department of Agriculture designated nine counties in Southeastern Colorado as primary natural disaster areas because of ongoing drought conditions. Despite this winter’s above-average snowfall in the Pikes Peak region, drought conditions prevail in the Arkansas River basin.The March 19 U.S. Drought Monitor report, the last update available before press time, did not consider most of El Paso County in a drought state. However, immediately to the southeast, Crowley County and most of the other counties in the Arkansas Valley were in ìlong-term, severe droughtî conditions.The southeast part of the state has been experiencing severe to exceptional drought conditions since 2011, according to the Water Availability Task Force at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. ìSince March 2011, the precipitation deficit has grown to over 14 inches,î wrote task force members Taryn Finnessey and Tracy Kosloff in their March Drought Update. ìAnnual precipitation at this location is 12 inches, meaning the existing deficit is more than a year’s worth of precipitation.îFarmers and ranchers in Baca, Bent, Cheyenne, Crowley, Kiowa, Las Animas, Lincoln, Otero and Prowers counties are directly impacted by the disaster declaration. The contiguous counties around the drought disaster area, including El Paso County, are eligible for the same relief; if their agricultural operations were impacted by the drought, according to the USDA Farm Service Agency.If a farm operator can show losses of more than 30 percent of their crop value or livestock issues are related to the drought, they are eligible for emergency low-interest loans, administered by the Colorado office of the FSA. The loans must be repaid, and are limited to $500,000 for farmers and ranchers who have sufficient experience, collateral and creditworthiness.The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center shows a 33 percent chance of above-average precipitation for most of Colorado for April, May and June. According to the NWS’s long range models, the summer will be wetter than normal, as well.Agricultural operators who believe they will qualify for the emergency loans are encouraged to contact their county FSA office. The El Paso County FSA office can be reached at 719-632-9598. Applicants must apply by Oct. 4.

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