For now, there's no significant drought relief in sight and no reason for area farmers to shift out of drought survival mode.

HOLLY, Colo. — For now, there's no significant drought relief in sight and no reason for area farmers to shift out of drought survival mode.

That's the verdict of Dana Barth, conservationist with the Northeast Prowers Conservation District, who recently hosted a drought management meeting in Holly attended by around 60 producers.

Brian Bledsoe, a meteorologist based in Colorado Springs who has been giving dismal weather outlooks since last winter, saw no reason to change his tune during a presentation to the group.

"There's nothing coming our way from what he's seeing in his crystal ball," Barth said. "Any rain is going to be scattered, none of the long soaking rains we would need to bring us out of the drought."

Farmers and ranchers in attendance were encouraged to evaluate all possible tools to survive the disaster, including federally subsidized pasture, rangeland and forage insurance, deferred capital gains tax options and reaching out for mental health services. Local county extension offices can help with resources on any of those topics.

Even irrigated farmers in the area are running short of water. The Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, based in Lamar, has set restrictions on wells and ditch irrigation to honor a decades-old water compact with Kansas, Barth noted. However, farmers across the state border aren't much better off, she added.

For now, most farmers are still able to joke that every day is one day closer to rain. But she also described them as "guarded," wrestling with what to do next and with fear of the unknown.

Mental health professionals recommend farmers avoid becoming isolated by despair.

"Talk to somebody and keep the lines of communication open," she said. "It can help just to have a conversation over coffee and tea or with a neighbor across the fence."

Bruce Fickenscher, Kiowa County's ag extension agent, is also concerned about the well-being of farmers and ranchers in the area.

While ongoing drought is hitting them in their pocketbooks, it has done little to diminish land values and lease rates, property taxes and other fixed operating expenses.

Ranchers can consult Web soil surveys, available online, and attend regularly scheduled range monitoring workshops to calculate the realistic carrying capacity of their land, he said.

However, with drought now entering its fourth year, they are facing a tough dilemma.

"How do you justify not having any income off of that ground? That's the kind of questions I am getting now," he said.

Land prices in southeastern Colorado appear to be stabilizing, Fickenscher said, but at levels still well above what farming the land can pay for in its current state.

"I think land values in this area have leveled off," he said. "They haven't gone up, but they haven't gone down either."