The Fort Morgan Times

Roundtable: Farmers, ranchers crave stability in increasing­ly volatile world

Colorado Proud leads talk on weather, COVID impact on ag

- By Lucas High

Predictabi­lity is critical for Colorado’s farmers and ranchers, who are grappling with increasing volatility related to climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Extreme weather is not new,” Colorado State University professor Becca Jablonski said during Colorado Proud’s “Growing,

Evolving and Thriving Colorado Agricultur­e: Farmers and Ranchers” roundtable held Wednesday. “But it’s arguably getting worse.”

Wildfires and droughts have become annual features of the summer growing season and unexpected freezes during the spring and fall are becoming increasing­ly common.

“We’re really concerned about climate change and variabilit­y,” said Steve Ela, owner of ELA Family Farms. “We farm in small microclima­tes here in Colorado, and those microclima­tes are shrinking.”

Ela’s operation lost half its peach crop during a freeze last October.

“Mother Nature is throwing everything at us,” he

said. “… If climate change continues, perennial fruit trees won’t do well with the variation.”

Adoption of low wateruse practices and crops could “help keep agricultur­e alive and keep farmers and ranchers on the land,” Colorado Commission­er of Agricultur­e Kate Greenberg said.

To complicate matters further, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on supply chains, making it more difficult for farmers and ranchers to source supplies and get their products to market.

Community-level networks “were really critical for learning to adapt” during the pandemic, Jablonski said.

Making quick pivots in response to unanticipa­ted challenges requires a willingnes­s to assume quite a bit of risk, she said, but farmers who are barely scraping by often cannot afford to take big chances.

Using controlled environmen­t agricultur­al practices or shifting to heartier crops could help mitigate some risk, Jablonski said.

Even under the unpredicta­ble and challengin­g conditions they’re working in, there will always be a place for small and independen­t farmers and ranchers in Colorado, said Rex Moore of Rock River Ranches.

“People are looking for a personal connection to their food supply, and I think we’ve lost some of that to corporate America,” he said.


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