Farm Bill Reauthorization Goes to the Heart of Colorado's Rural Economies
Colorado’s agricultural industry is facing its most difficult economic outlook in years
Farms and ranches are the lifeblood of Colorado’s rural economies and communities, utilizing local suppliers, paying local labor, generating income that is spent in local stores and growing healthy and affordable food for Colorado and the world.
Right now, Colorado’s agricultural industry is also facing its most difficult economic outlook in years. Nationally net farm income is down 52 percent from only five years ago and is headed towards a 12-year low.
The challenges facing Colorado’s farms and ranches are reflected in the disparity in economic growth between rural Colorado and the Front Range. Many of the state’s rural counties are looking for ways create more economic prosperity in their communities.
Part of the response to these challenging times seems simple. The more we can do to support the vitality of Colorado’s farmers and ranchers, the stronger the state’s rural economies will be.
Since the Dust Bowl, farm bill conservation programs have served as a critical source of support. Funding from such programs goes directly into the hands of Colorado’s farmers and ranchers. It helps them make improvements that sustain the overall health of their lands and strengthen their businesses. The funding often results in long-term cost savings and improved efficiency.
The total impact of conservation funding can be multiplied several times over. As discussed above, stronger farms and ranches mean stronger rural communities. Moreover, improved conservation efforts on family farms and ranches sustain the natural beauty and wildlife of the state, supporting resources that draw people in to participate in Colorado’s booming outdoor recreation economy. Federal conservation funding also draws matching funds from local governments, nonprofits and other groups – all interested in protecting the long-term sustainability of agricultural lands and rural economies. Communities can use the funding from farm bill conservation programs to avoid regulation by proactively engaging in efforts to protect land, water and wildlife habitat.
In 2016 alone, the federal government allocated over $100 million to Colorado’s farms and ranches through farm bill conservation programs. Around two-thirds of this funding, or around $68 million, was spent on improvements to working farms and ranchers throughout the state.
Congress is now in the process of reauthorizing the farm bill and its conservation programs. It is essential that in doing so, Congress protect funding for these programs that not only represent an essential and significant investment in Colorado’s farms and ranches, but an investment directly into the heart of rural communities.
Lesli Allison is the executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance (WLA), established by landowners in 2011 to advance policies and practices that sustain working lands, connected landscapes and native species. WLA members steward approximately 14 million acres of deeded and leased public land in the American West. Through policy reform and on-the-ground stewardship, they are working to protect land and wildlife, restore watershed health, maintain wildlife corridors, promote economically vibrant rural communities, and to keep working lands working.