Community Agriculture Alliance: A resilient agriculture economy

This summer’s drought seems to have dominated much of the work done by the Routt County Extension Office throughout the past few months. Whether it was problems with gardens, trees or range conditions, many of the issues that our plants were facing were a direct result of the hot, dry conditions that plagued the majority of our growing season.

Last week, I attended the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Statewide Drought Conference. The theme, “Building a Drought-Resilient Economy Through Innovation,” focused on the many facets of our state’s economy and how drought affected them all. Tourism, energy production, agriculture and other sectors all were affected by the drought.

Tourists, hearing that wildfires were devastating some areas of the state, canceled reservations, not realizing how many areas completely were unaffected by the flames. Energy producers had to deal with less water for cooling their plants. Even Molson-Coors had to deal with low water flows that hampered manufacturing processes. And we all know how the drought affected local and regional agriculture.

In the agriculture sector, productivity and the resulting prices of commodities in large part are driven by Mother Nature. Creating a more resilient agricultural economy would be easier if predictions in long-range weather forecasting readily were available and accurate.

Climatologists from Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are working on ways to determine how various environmental conditions across the world affect weather patterns in Colorado. We all are familiar with how El Niño and La Niña affect local weather patterns, but climatologists now are understanding how similar conditions in the Atlantic, Indian and other oceans conspire with one another to affect how much moisture our area receives. Such information could prove invaluable to farmers who could know in advance what type of crops to plant for appropriate moisture levels or for ranchers to know how to alter stocking rates in advance of a drought.

Part of becoming a more resilient business is to plan for the long term. Ranchers know that managing range for health will reap long-term benefits, even when a tough year makes an appearance. This point was driven home at another workshop I attended this week.

The CSU Extension Service, in partnership with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and multiple other partners, has developed the Colorado Rangeland Monitoring Initiative. The group presented a workshop in Walden this week to educate landowners and range managers about how to monitor range health with those long-term goals in mind.

Simple rangeland monitoring techniques can give a rancher a broad view of what is happening on the ground. Taking photos each year of the same spot will create a record of how grass and other forage is reacting to your management practices. Basic line-point intercept monitoring helps determine whether you’re moving in the right direction.

Creating a drought-resilient agriculture economy depends on creating sustainable ranching practices. Through tools available today and what’s on the horizon, Routt County agriculture is well-poised to continue to thrive into the future.

Todd Hagenbuch is the agricultural extension agent for Routt County. He can be reached at 970-879-0825 or thagenbuch@co.routt.co.us.

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