Colorado agriculture, like much of the High Plains region, is facing many challenges - a changing marketplace in which commodity prices are the same as they were decades ago while costs continue to climb, a looming climate catastrophe and a dwindling water supply.
But as with any challenge, also comes opportunity.
As the Journal-Advocate reports, the theme of the 26th Annual Governor’s Conference on Agriculture, held Feb. 22 in Denver, was collaboration, and attendees were challenged to seek out alliances and ideas to benefit their own operations, the industry statewide, and beyond.
Speakers at the conference shared challenges and opportunities facing agriculture.
Dr. Gregory Graff, associate professor of economics at Colorado State University, said consumers care most about how fresh their food is, meaning processing plants should be located as close to the crop source as possible, specifically mentioning dairy processing plants as tremendous new opportunities in Colorado.
But like Kansas and other High Plains states, food processing can’t be accomplished without vast amounts of water and Colorado’s water resources are already overtaxed.
The South Platte River is the subject of three ongoing studies focused on finding ways to conserve, divert and store even more water from it.
At the same time, CSU climatologists say Colorado – like other High Plains states – is getting hotter and drier.
Tarryn Finnessey, senior climate change specialist at CSU, said at the same time Colorado’s water use increases in coming decades, stream flows will decrease, the peak mountain runoff season will begin earlier, and snowpack will decrease.
“Looking ahead, there's not even enough water to meet existing demand, let alone increased demand,” Finnessey said.
Water storage emerged from the conference as the highest long-term priority.
Another theme that resonated throughout the forum was that agriculture needs to do a better job of communicating with its end users.
Dr. Dawn McFadden, an agribusiness specialist at CSU, said agri-tourism offers increased revenue for farms and a chance to build relationships between ag producers and food consumers. Colorado, she said, is one of the top five states for agri-tourism in the U.S.