Counties facing dry season

Freedom New Mexico: Alisa Boswell Portales farmer Rick Ledbetter looks over his irrigated wheat field Friday afternoon northwest of Portales. Ledbetter said his dry land wheat is dead and his irrigated wheat is about two feet shorter than it should be due to dry weather.

Alisa Boswell

One word defines Curry and Roosevelt counties these last six month: Dry.

Bone dry, say officials who keep track. The National Weather Service said New Mexico average precipitation for March was ranked as the third driest since 1895, when they started keeping count.

The weather service reports from October through March, Clovis received 1.81 inches of moisture and Portales measured 1.91 inches.

Each day without moisture means increased fire danger and hurts eastern New Mexico’s agricultural economy.

New Mexico Forestry Division spokesperson Daniel Ware said a statewide (with the exception of four and a half counties) fire restriction became effective 8 a.m. Saturday.

“Obviously, first and foremost, it means you’re right in a target zone,” said Ware. “Most of our fires this year have been in eastern New Mexico and our biggest fires have been in eastern New Mexico. The longer we go without any rain and the longer we have sustained winds, the longer it’s going to take to recover.”

Ware said although this is not the worst drought New Mexico has seen, fire dangers are high and people should exercise caution. He said the Forestry Division puts off placing restrictions as long as possible but current conditions have reached a point where fire danger is just too high.

“Most of these fires are just kind of common-sense type situations,” Ware said. “These fires are not campfires that are getting away from people. It’s more situations where people are just not taking the precautions they need to. That’s what we need is people to think about what they’re doing. You need to have situational awareness. You need to know what’s going on around you as far as weather.”

Ware said examples of taking such precautions are minor things, such as making sure a chain isn’t dragging when hauling a trailer, not throwing cigarette butts outside and taking care when using power tools.

He said it is important to take precautions because conditions will only get worse as the dry thunderstorm season approaches in May.

Local farmers say they have been hit hard because their dryland wheat crops have slowly died from lack of moisture.

Pat Woods of the New Mexico State Farm Bureau said 90 percent of his dryland wheat has been condemned by federal crop insurance.

“I read a quote awhile ago from Cattle Growers President Bert Ancell where he said he prays El Nino and La Nina would end up having a fight over New Mexico and both of them end up crying right over New Mexico,” said Woods, laughing. “Right now, the irrigated farmers are trying to put water on their irrigated land by running their sprinklers and wells … before a crop is planted, because they’re trying to build up that moisture profile.”

He said irrigated farmers are storing water into the land, so extra moisture will be available to their spring crops. Farmers estimate it will be a dry summer as well.

Local Portales farmer Rick Ledbetter said he has mostly irrigated crops but even they have suffered.

“Even though we have irrigated land, we still need help from mother nature with winter moisture,” Ledbetter said. “The dry weather has been pretty devastating on the dryland. What little dryland I have, it’s had it. It’s pretty much dead. My irrigated (crop) looks pretty good but it’s not going to be nearly as good as it could have been.”

He said his silage crops are about two-thirds of what they normally are but he considers himself fortunate because most of his crops have managed to survive despite the dry weather and high winds.

Fast facts

National Weather Service January-March rain statistics for 2010 —

Clovis: 2.05 inches.

13 miles north of Clovis: 3.97 inches. (over an inch every month).

Portales: 3.45 inches.

National Weather Service January-March rain statistics for 2011 —

Clovis: 0.39 inches (26 percent of normal, which is 1.48 inches).

13 miles north of Clovis: 0.35 inches (0.9 inches below normal, which is 1.25 inches).

Portales: 0.08 inches (6 percent of normal, which is 1.39 inches).

New Mexico Forestry Division fire statistics —

• New Mexico fires since October 2010: 409 fires with 204,175 acres burned.

• Most recent Honey Hole fire in Roosevelt County: Burned 60 acres and was caused by smoking.

• Most New Mexico fires since October have been started by tools and equipment.

• All Curry and Roosevelt County fires since October have been started by people due to smoking, equipment, debris burning and more.

• In April in Roosevelt County: 6 fires with 4, 235 acres burned (none in Curry County).

• Curry and Roosevelt County fires since October: 22 fires with 17,824 acres

• New Mexico counties not included in the fire restriction: Rio Arriba, Taos, Los Alamos, San Juan and the western half of Colfax County are not included.