It’s no secret that Colorado’s natural beauty is a major draw for residents and visitors, both long-time and newcomers. Our natural and public lands are a big reason Colorado’s population has grown by almost 15% over the past decade. According to a comprehensive 2019 statewide outdoor recreation plan, 92% of Coloradans participate in outdoor recreation at least once every few weeks, and our hunting opportunities, our public lands at explore and our ski resorts are loved around the world. Land also serves another purpose that is at least as important to the identity and economy of the state: agriculture.
Colorado’s diverse agriculture and food industry generates approximately $ 40 billion in economic activity each year. Nationally, Colorado ranks in the top ten for the production of nearly 25 products, from cattle and calves to tree fruits, grapes and melons. In our small farm, we manage a dairy herd and produce high quality handcrafted goat cheeses including manchego, cheddar, feta and goat which are sold in our farm shop and in shops and restaurants. markets on the west side.
Sadly, Colorado farmers and ranchers face daunting challenges from climate change, especially the persistent drought. Water levels in the state’s reservoirs, as they are in the Colorado River Basin, are very low. Warmer weather means drier soil and more evaporation, making it harder for precipitation to reach its destination. The results are already being felt. The ditches are closed early. The storage is well below its capacity. All of this is punctuated by an announcement from the Ute Mountain Tribe Farm & Ranch Enterprise that it had to lay off half of its workers, planting only a tenth of the amount of corn it had been able to do in previous years. Warmer temperatures are also difficult for our goats, and everything needs more water as the world gets warmer.
Good land management can make a real difference when it comes to protecting water resources. And it’s increasingly clear that we’re going to have to change the way we conserve our land. Fortunately, we already have programs in place to do this. The Farm Bill that Congress passes every five years funds critical programs that allow farmers to protect high-priority farmlands and ranches, improve water quality, improve wildlife habitat, and improve wildlife habitat. Moreover.
Unfortunately, these conservation programs are regularly oversubscribed. Nationally, up to 75% of qualified applicants are turned down, meaning the demand for conservation on 13.8 million acres is not being met. Significant investments in these programs are essential to tackle climate change, support rural communities and ensure a sustainable environment.
That investment could happen shortly, as these programs are set to receive just over $ 27 billion under President Biden’s Build Back Better program. Either way, it can be passed by Congress, as part of a reconciliation plan or otherwise, this funding would be a historic investment in the future of American farms and has been approved by a coalition of over 160 farmers, breeders, sportsmen and wildlife groups. . The two U.S. senators from Colorado, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, have expressed support for the bill and its conservation and climate provisions.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a program that is expected to receive a significant increase in funding through the Build Back Better bill. A vital program in Colorado, EQIP promotes agricultural production and environmental quality by helping agricultural producers and non-industrial forest managers deliver environmental benefits. Since the start of the program, more than $ 190 million has been awarded to the Coloradans to build or improve irrigation or water control and management systems.
To address the problem of healthy habitats for Colorado, the Working Lands for Wildlife Program, which is also funded by the Farm Bill, focuses on conservation efforts to increase land productivity, which enriches wildlife habitats. Some of the declining species that the program is successfully rehabilitating in Colorado include the Colorado cutthroat trout, sage grouse and prairie chicken,
Working Lands for Wildlife doesn’t just help the animal species it targets for habitat protection and restoration. Landowners benefit by reducing their input costs and improving efficiency and yields, and the program also protects essential landscapes for the public. These programs also support hunters and fishermen by preserving land, water and habitats. And these practices also create other environmental benefits for everyone, such as cleaner water and air, and healthier soil, all to help mitigate climate change.
Although recent news has signaled its demise, the Build Back Better investment would be a unique opportunity for rural America to take the lead and fundamentally improve conservation across the country. And it’s too early to abandon this important effort that would benefit rural Americans and communities across the country. Colorado should be grateful to the Senses. Hickenlooper and Bennet to support these investments and are committed to offering their services to our farmers and ranchers. I hope their colleagues in the United States Senate, no matter which side they come from, will not let this setback stop them from doing good for our farmers and ranchers and will support these historic investments.
David & Suanne Miller established Western Culture Creamery & Farmstead in Paonia in 2015 and obtained a USDA license in 2018. They are committed to producing the highest quality goat cheese from their small, sustainable farm on the West Slope. .