Future of Agriculture in Colorado Focus of Colorado State University Forum in Sterling

Agriculture in Colorado and rural America is far from entering into a crisis state and ample opportunities remain for traditional farming communities, but increased competition and consolidation have inherently changed they way agribusiness is done, agriculture producers and Colorado State University experts said Tuesday.

A growing global market is leading to consolidation of agribusiness enterprises, and more and more farming communities are turning to tourism and niche markets to find areas where agricultural entrepreneurs can find economic success. These concepts and others were discussed at a special meeting in Sterling – between the Board of Governors of the Colorado State University System, CSU faculty and community leaders – on the future of Colorado’s agricultural economy.

The primary goal of the forum was to discuss and identify the challenges of agricultural communities and how Colorado State can best respond to assist rural communities, farmers, ranchers and producers, said Colorado State President Larry Edward Penley.

"Colorado State University, a land-grant institution, has a responsibility to promote economic development and quality of life in the rural and urban communities of our state–and the issues facing rural areas with their roots in traditional production agriculture are particularly challenging," Penley said. "Colorado State can be a leader in supporting communities as they respond to changes in the industry and the opportunities and challenges of competing in a global market."

While modern life has encroached on traditional farmlands, technology has enabled greater production from existing working farms to meet the increased need of a growing population, said Dana Hoag, a Colorado State agricultural economist. He added that, while official definitions of what constitutes a "farm" have changed, the amount of working agricultural land has remained relatively steady. However, 90 percent of farmers today make most of their income off the farm.

"Generally, there are more opportunities today than ever," Hoag said. "But what we are losing is the agricultural traditions, and that is what makes it feel like a crisis."

An increasingly global economy and burgeoning entrepreneurship in rural areas will continue to transform agribusiness, said Stephan Weiler, a regional economist and associate dean for research in Colorado State’s College of Liberal Arts. For example, higher fuel costs will make locally produced commodities more cost-efficient; consumer demands in high-population areas for farmers markets will open new doors for direct farmer-to-consumer interaction; and increased desire for products such as organic milk will all provide new opportunities in agricultural markets.

"Rural areas are real dynamos economically," Weiler said. "Rural areas helped reignite the Colorado economy after the economic recession in the early 2000s."

Rates of entrepreneurial success in both rural and metro areas are the same, Weiler said. However, rural markets will more quickly hit limitations on growth. It is at these growth limits that Colorado State can help by identifying new markets and techniques to enable continued growth of rural entrepreneurial enterprises.

Collaborations between Colorado State and producers can be strengthened through more research programs and enhanced Colorado State Cooperative Extension programs that can address real-life problems on the farm, said local agricultural leaders.

Kent Bamford, president of the Colorado Livestock Association and cattleman from Haxtun, said Colorado State can also help by training students to better understand agricultural needs and provide scientifically based research.

"We need people who can sit at the table and present real facts,"

Bamford said.