A month after the first wave of devastating winter storms hit Colorado, some eastern Colorado ranchers still haven’t been able to get feed to their cattle, state Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp said.
State officials estimate that about 10,000 cattle died in the storms, although some agriculture groups think the toll could reach 15,000 once all the carcasses are found.
With calving season under way, the damage is expected to get worse, Stulp told lawmakers in a briefing.
“They’re starting to calve now. We’re expecting losses,” Stulp said.
“It really has been a continuing disaster, about 30 days in longevity. The real loss is still buried in the snow,” he said.
Compounding the deep snow is a shortage of hay, with prices doubling and even tripling — if ranchers can find any.
Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, estimated Colorado ranchers will spend $10 million to $20 million extra on feed this year and said the state must find a way to help struggling farmers and ranchers.
“It certainly isn’t going to end tomorrow,” she said.
Stulp said the state is still trying to get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but it will only reimburse local governments and the state for rescue efforts, not losses suffered by farmers and ranchers.
Gov. Bill Ritter is also seeking a disaster declaration by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, which would make low-interest loans available to ranchers, farmers, feedlot owners and counties.
Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, said the state needs to set up an agricultural disaster fund to protect one of the state’s biggest industries.
“It’s not a handout. These do happen, and it will happen again,” Gardner said.
Stulp said he hopes farmers and ranchers can survive until they can get financial aid.
“It may be a while in coming, but hopefully we can get them some reimbursement and keep them solvent,” he said.
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