From The Denver Post (Colleen O’Connor):
Dirt is almost all that people can talk about these days in communities along U.S. 50 and 287. Photos of fierce dust storms rolling across the state’s Eastern Plains are showing up on Facebook and local TV news, harking to the Dust Bowl years that devastated southeastern Colorado in the 1930s. Farmers and ranchers are tolling their losses. People are praying for rain. It’s the inevitable result of three seasons of extreme drought in the area — D4 this year, the worst on the U.S. Drought Monitor scale, and no relief in sight, said state climatologist Nolan Doesken. “The first year, it was very dry, but there was still reasonable vegetative cover,” he said. “That started deteriorating last year, with more and more bare ground.”
For miles on either side of U.S. 287 between Kit Carson and Lamar, the earth is brown and bare during a season that should be bursting with green native grasses and wheat. Even weeds aren’t growing. Failed crops mean vast swaths of land with no roots to anchor parched topsoil. “(Farmers and ranchers) are watching the clouds gather, and then they get nothing but dust storms,” Doesken said. “It’s very depressing.”
The conditions are taxing the financial ledgers and the creativity of people who make their living from the land…
It’s like the silent spring, empty and eerie. Hardly a tractor in sight, as far as the eye can see. No one laboring to prepare for the wheat harvest. No cattle grazing, because the grasses have gone dormant and ranchers are selling off their herds or trucking them elsewhere…
At Stulp Farms, a few miles south of Hixson Farms, they’re down to their last bales of hay. “We’re about to run out,” said Jensen Stulp, a veterinarian who manages the family farm.
His father, John, is a former Colorado commissioner of agriculture who spends most of his time in Denver working as special policy adviser on water to Gov. John Hickenlooper. “We’re down to a fifth of a herd,” Stulp said. “I’m selling 20 pairs every two weeks until it rains, or we run out of cattle.”