Residents in the Western U-S have been battling the largest March blizzard on record, a storm that has dumped as much as six feet of snow in some areas of Colorado and Wyoming. The storm is in some respects good news for an area of the country which last year received so little moisture that there was literally no harvest for crops in many areas. Indeed Colorado agriculture officials say the storm is a billion dollar blessing. Snow pack in that state is now estimated at 104 percent of average, compared to 78 percent before the blizzard.
Monster snow storms aside, much of farm country is currently moisture deficient. The dry conditions are raising concerns of a potential drought despite the fact that spring planting is at least a month away for most of the country.
Water also continues to be a concern in the Colorado river basin. Earlier this year, the department of the interior reduced the flow of water to California by 15 percent, enforcing the legal cap on California's Colorado River use for the first time ever. The administration also divvied up the water among water districts within the state.
But this week, a U-S district court judge ruled the interior department failed to follow proper procedures when flow was taken away from the Imperial water district. According to the judge, Imperial's water loss amounted to a breach of contract and the full allotment of water was awarded back to the water district. While farmers in the region are pleased, other water districts within the state must now accept a reduced water flow and tap into reserves.
While government regulations are being loosened in California, the U-S-D-A is tightening rules in farm country. Biotech crops with pharmaceutical and industrial traits are now subject to more stringent oversight as a result of incidents last fall involving trial plots of biopharm corn. Texas-based ProdiGene was fined millions of dollars for permit violations in Nebraska and Iowa and some harvested and delivered commercial grain was quarantined in storage at the elevator due to suspected contamination.
The new regulations will increase the number of visits made by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to monitor both the trial and volunteer crops during the following year. The distance between biopharm trial plots and open pollinated corn will double in all instances. And all equipment used in the trials will be dedicated solely to the biopharm crops and cleaned to APHIS standards.