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Western farmers squeezed

Farmers and ranchers in the rocky Mountains appear to be facing a tighter financial squeeze than those in other parts of the United States. A recent forecast by the Colorado Department of Agriculture estimates a 52 percent drop in farm income this year. Although they do not have statistics, agricultural experts in other states in the region paint a similarly dire portrait.

The US Department of Agriculture has predicted a 20 percent decline in farm income nationwide for this year. The reasons for this are failing commodity prices, inflation, and rising energy costs, but, for an number of reasons, agriculture in the semi-arid plains tends to be more expensive and higher-risk than it is in areas like the corn belt.

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Shorter growing seasons over much of the region; the need for farmers to let land lie fallow every other year in areas that are dry; the rising energy costs of pumping water from ever-declining water tables in irrigated areas -- all tend to increase costs.

"Farmers are used to highs and lows and have used borrowed money to even things out," explains Gordon McComber, director of the Montana Department of Agriculture.

The credit crunch is the icing on the cake of economic problems for the farmer. Declining commodity prices, combined with inflation, have meant that in this region the cost of a crop is higher than its market price.

"We are very concerned about the plight of the farmer, but we don't know what we can do about it," says Don Daiss, assistant commissioner of agriculture in Wyoming.

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