In late October I had the opportunity to spend multiple days touring farms, ranches, and other ag operations across northeast Colorado. As Commissioner of Agriculture, meeting producers across our state is not only one of my favorite parts of the job, but one of the most important. It is critical for me to continue listening and learning from those whose lives revolve around agriculture, and that is precisely what this trip offered.
Our trip took us from Akron to Sterling, and Haxtun to Holyoke and we ended with a full day in Yuma, with Yuma County Commissioner Scott Weaver as our guide. With representatives from our federal delegation, state elected officials, and local leaders in tow, we started our tour in Akron with the Pachner family, learning about the conservation practices producers on the Plains have deployed to retain moisture in the soil, fight pests like the wheat stem sawfly, and still remain productive. We also discussed why bringing on the next generation in a smooth succession, like Jason’s son and daughter-in-law, is crucial to the continued success of long-term farming operations.
We then visited Sterling Livestock, where owner Jim Santomaso told us about the challenges of consolidation in the livestock industry, which leads to small family ranchers getting squeezed from all sides. The pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing problems, such as supply chain shortages, livestock prices, and the long distances for many producers to reach processing facilities. After lunch, it was over to Haxtun to hear from the Pfaltgraff family about their integration of a diverse crop rotation into their farm system. As they develop new markets for innovative crops like chickpeas and black eyed peas - they are building soil microorganisms, retaining ground moisture, and thinking creatively to sustain their farm in the changing climate.
The day ended with an informative visit to Seaboard Foods in Holyoke, where we discussed current challenges with supply chains, labor needs, and the risks of foreign animal disease. Then it was off to Yuma for dinner with local community leaders and a good night's sleep.
Day two began with an early coffee and conversation with my predecessor and Yuma farmer, former Agriculture Commissioner Don Brown. I enjoyed gaining more insight into how each region’s leaders are thinking about how best to move forward. Then we were off to Wray’s ProHealth potato processing facility, where we viewed the entire process of how the potatoes we’ll be enjoying this holiday season get from field to plate.
We then headed over to Nathan and Nikki Weathers’ farm to hear about how young farmers are building businesses, creatively expanding marketing opportunities, and experimenting for resilience. Their operations are a fantastic example of family succession planning, handing down responsibilities from generation to generation, and allowing each family member to find their most fulfilling activities - from specialty crops to livestock breeding. To round out the day, General Manager of the Republican River Water Conservation District Deb Daniel gave us a detailed overview of the complexities surrounding the Republican River’s compact with Kansas and Nebraska. Building and maintaining a pipeline, mandatory retirement of acreage, and minimizing groundwater depletions to the Ogallala Aquifer are challenges she works to overcome on a daily basis.
Throughout the two days, our tour reaffirmed what we’ve always known: Coloradans are full of grit, passion, and tenacity. This is as true in my home base in southwest Colorado as it is in the communities of northeast Colorado. I met dozens of dedicated, talented individuals across the five counties I visited. Each is committed to meeting the demands of consumers while figuring out how to do so sustainably and profitably. They know that it’s not going to be easy, but they recognize that their job is one of the most important for Colorado’s quality of life.
Colorado agriculture is one of the largest and most vital economic drivers in our state. It gives a major portion of our population joy and purpose, keeps our main streets vibrant, and provides a necessity for every Coloradan - fresh, healthy, and nutritious food products.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture is committed to supporting these producers in every way we can. From providing resources for mental health (anxiety and depression are major concerns when livelihoods are at stake), to the legislative assembly’s stimulus bills and the programs they fund, we are fully on board at every level.