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Drought Far From Over For Southern Colorado Farmers

Cantaloupe
Luke Runyon
/
KUNC and Harvest Public Media

While spring snow storms have eased drought conditions in parts of Northern Colorado, in the southern part of the state the dry weather is forcing farmers to make some tough decisions.

drought monitor
Credit NRCS
That dark red splotch on the map includes much of the Arkansas river basin, a portion of the state that has missed out on many of this spring's snow storms.

Irrigation ditches are bone dry in Rocky Ford, a region of the state known for its melons, harvested in the late summer months.

On Rocky Ford cantaloupe farmer Michael Hirakata’s land, drought has turned the soil into dust. The same is true for most of the Arkansas river basin. The most recent drought monitor shows the river basin still in the grips of exceptional drought.

Most years farmers in the Arkansas basin supplement the melon crop with wheat and corn. But a lack of irrigation water is forcing them to forgo the added revenue and put all faith in the melons. Cantaloupes need less water to grow.

Though, there is one silver lining to the forecasted lack of precipitation.

“One bright side of not having any water is it’s not going to hail,” said Hirakata.

Hirakata is hoping for the best this season. On top of two years of drought, his industry is still trying to recover from an outbreak tied to cantaloupe that killed dozens of people in 2011.

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