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Ag Producers Get Help to Address Water and Energy Uncertainties

Colorado is vulnerable from a water availability perspective


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Climate change is making Colorado hotter, and many Colorado farmers and ranchers are doing what they can now to reduce energy costs and protect their precious water supply for the future.

“Planning for uncertainties with the water is something that farmers and ranchers have had to do for hundreds of years in Colorado, but the clear trend for warmer and potentially dryer conditions going forward presents some unique challenges,” says Delta County cattle rancher and hay grower Mike Higuera, who formerly worked in land conservation with The Nature Conservancy. Higuera is utilizing state funding resources and technical expertise to install high-efficiency hydro-powered center pivot irrigation.

In the past five years, 206 Colorado farm or ranch operations have obtained free energy assessments through the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) and Colorado Energy Office (CEO). In October 2018, the assessments received a boost with the hiring of Louisville-based Nexant. The company is offering 40 free assessments in 2019 and 65 in 2020. After an assessment, experts can help ag producers implement recommended projects for water efficiency, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“We are offering funding and technical assistance to help farmers be more resilient and more self-reliant,” CDA energy specialist Sam Anderson says. “A lot of farmers are very concerned about climate change and are looking for solutions to address limited resources in the future.”

Colorado is home to 38,900 agricultural operations that spend more than $400 million annually on energy. This spring, Anderson organized an ag energy smart and climate resiliency educational roadshow with stops from Cortez to Craig, telling ag producers in the audience, “It’s about your survival and having the capacity to deal with hardships.”

Anderson says that until the state’s ag energy programs were implemented in 2013, no energy-services companies provided that assistance in Colorado, leading to pent-up needs for energy efficiency improvements. For example, Colorado producers have some 13,000 aging irrigation pumps that need urgent upgrading.

Colorado producers include some 120 big dairies with more than 200 milk cows each, many of which are struggling to turn a profit in today’s market. Dairy and greenhouse operations are higher intensity energy users with some 30 percent of costs going to energy bills. Anderson says efficiency improvements could reduce those energy costs by 20 percent annually, with a possible return on investment in as little as two years.

Commonly implemented projects include installing variable frequency drives on well pump motors, upgrading to high efficiency heating systems and LED lighting in greenhouses and dairies, and adding high-efficiency ventilation fans in greenhouses and poultry houses.

The energy smart ag programs typically can provide funding to offset between 40 percent and 80 percent of project costs by utilizing combined funds and grants from CDA, CEO, USDA and utility rebates, Anderson says. Projects range from $1,000 to $80,000, and typical renewable energy installations such as on-farm micro hydro-electric range from $20,000 to $40,000.

The spring roadshow included information from climatologist Peter Goble from the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, who warned that climate change threats to Colorado ranchers and farmers include more severe drought, varying snowpack and changes in spring runoff times. If current carbon dioxide emissions continue, Goble says Colorado could see average warming of 8 to 10 degrees in summers and 6 to 8 degrees in winters by the end of the century.

“The whole state is vulnerable from a water availability perspective,” Goble says. “My advice is to use water as wisely as you can, because it’s going to be very important in coming years.”

Editor’s note: More information on resources can be found at www.colorado.gov/ag/energy and www.colorado.gov/energyoffice/agricultural-energy-efficiency

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Suzie Romig

Suzie C. Romig is a freelance journalist who has lived in Colorado since 1991. Her byline has appeared in newspapers and magazines across the state on topics ranging from small businesses to raising children to energy efficiency. She can be reached at suziecr@q.com

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