Growers monitor drought conditions

05/31/2013 02:52:00 PM
Melissa Shipman

The New Mexico drought is reaching severe levels, but onion growers say large amounts of rainfall may not be the answer.

The U.S. Drought Monitor website categorizes the conditions in much of the state as exceptionally dry.

In fact, 81% of the state considered in the second-most severe drought category, with 44% of that area listed as being in the highest degree of drought conditions.

The entire state is considered to be in abnormally dry conditions.

“When you look at all the states, New Mexico has the worst drought situation,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Chris Cramer, professor of horticulture at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, said the area is already significantly behind on rainfall for the year.

“We are short on rainfall by 3 inches,” Cramer said.

Data from the campus shows the area has received less than half an inch of rain since October. They should have received 3.5 inches by now, according to historic averages.

When considering that the state averages only 8-10 inches for the entire year, a 3-inch deficit at this point is significant.

Growers are feeling the need for water as well.

“Water is a big concern,” said Steven Smith, president and owner of National Onion Inc., Las Cruces.

Onions do thrive in dry conditions, however, so growers aren’t hoping for major downpours anytime soon.

“We love drought conditions and we want it to be really dry, but we do have to irrigate,” Smith said.

Brandon Barker, vice president of Las Cruces-based onion grower-shipper Barker Produce Inc., says that even though the drought is bad, it’s difficult to wish for rain right now.

“We need water, but it’s hard to wish for rain when the crops are looking so good. We do need the rain though, just not when the harvest hits,” he said.

Smith said he hopes drought relief comes in the form of snow melting in the northern states.

“Hopefully we’ll get some snow in Colorado to run down the river and recharge our wells and reservoirs,” he said.

Conditions worsen

Despite onions’ preference for dry conditions, growers are aware of the dangers of receiving too little rainfall.

“The crop in production is showing stress from root prune due to lack of quality water,” said Rosie Lack, owner of Lack Farms, Rincon, N.M.

Fuchs said the drought conditions are worsening.

“A year ago, only 3% of the state was in the exceptional drought condition category, so this long-term drought has gotten worse over time and we’re starting to see some drought related impacts developing,” Fuchs said.

Some of those effects include the lowering of the water table, which can be related to the amount of water various growers need to pump for irrigation.

“I don’t know the specifics, but we have noticed, not only in New Mexico but in other areas as well, that the drought has affected the water table and it has dropped significantly over the last couple years,” Fuchs said.



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