Colorado Agricultural Cluster and Value-Chain Analysis Begin as Part of Statewide Economic Development

Colorado State University and the Colorado Department of Agriculture are teaming up to provide a new look at Colorado’s critical agricultural industry with a study that maps economic relationships among sectors tied – perhaps unexpectedly – to farm and ranch production.

Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the project Thursday during the annual Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture at the Renaissance Denver Hotel. The agriculture project is part of the Colorado Blueprint, the state’s bottom-up approach to economic development.

Called the Agricultural Value-Chain Analysis, the new study will illustrate linkages within Colorado’s broad agricultural industry. It will highlight sectors many Coloradans might not immediately associate with agriculture, including biotechnology, finance, ag tourism, and the food and beverage sector.

Colorado agriculture annually contributes an estimated $40 billion in sales to the state economy. Depicting the industry’s economic connections is a key step in shedding light on critical issues, common challenges, emerging policy needs and opportunities for growth in agriculture.

The Agricultural Value-Chain Analysis will support work of the newly forming Colorado Agricultural Cluster, one of the broad-based industry clusters working with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, or OEDIT, to develop the Colorado Blueprint. These groups are forming to help spark innovation, national and global competitiveness, ongoing prosperity, and sustainable job growth in Colorado.

“We’re trying to shine a light on all the different facets of agriculture,” said Kathay Rennels, CSU assistant vice president for community and economic development and leader of the Colorado Agricultural Cluster. “We want to create foundational knowledge about the depth and breadth of the agricultural industry and its role as an economic driver, as well as its role in our state culture.”

The Agricultural Cluster – formally recognized for the first time this year by the state of Colorado – will highlight connections among sectors within the state’s diverse agricultural industry so the industry is more successful in presenting unified economic and policy goals to both stakeholders and Colorado officials.

Rennels is spearheading the Agricultural Cluster with help from colleagues in the Colorado Department of Agriculture. During a series of meetings hosted by OEDIT in April, stakeholders from all facets of agriculture will have the opportunity to provide comments and input.

“Identification of the Colorado Agricultural Cluster is significant because it recognizes the longtime role of agriculture as an economic driver in Colorado and directly ties the industry to statewide economic-development efforts,” said Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar, who heads the state Department of Agriculture. “Now is the time for agriculture to join together in a new way, and to form and communicate a shared vision for its future in Colorado.”

Like other clusters within the framework of the Colorado Blueprint, the Agricultural Cluster will address six core objectives that the state OEDIT is using as a platform to create a more competitive state economy. The objectives are:
• Build a business-friendly environment
• Retain, grow and recruit companies
• Increase access to capital
• Create and market a stronger Colorado brand
• Educate and train the workforce of the future
• Cultivate innovation and technology

“Colorado State is pleased to launch the Agricultural Value-Chain Analysis and to help lead development of the Colorado Agricultural Cluster in the service of economic development for the state. These efforts are a great way for our land-grant university to connect our expertise to the needs of Colorado in ways that advance the state economy,” said CSU President Tony Frank.

Economists have long viewed agriculture as bedrock of the Colorado economy. Indeed, in his State of the State address delivered Jan. 12, Hickenlooper said: “It is worth noting that Colorado agriculture is leading the state out of this recession. Agricultural exports in the past year have grown more than 20 percent – I’ll say that again, 20 percent – which really makes us Colorado Proud!”

At times, however, agriculture’s robust and dependable role in the state economy is overshadowed by newer industries, such as aerospace and tourism and recreation.

Understanding the scope and dynamism of the agricultural industry – and the synergies among its varied sectors – is an important step toward continued innovation and job growth, said Gregory Graff, associate professor in the CSU Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Graff, an expert in the economics of innovation, will lead the Agricultural Value-Chain Analysis, which is underwritten by CSU and the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

“With this analysis, we’re mapping the data in a new way to help inform the objectives of the Colorado Blueprint. At a higher level, we’re trying to initiate communication across the industry in a way that’s ultimately useful to state policy-making,” said Graff, who will collaborate with fellow CSU economists on the analysis.

Agriculture often is seen as a collection of important commodity groups. The Value-Chain Analysis and Agricultural Cluster project seek to view the industry through a different lens, focusing on interconnections that could yield new possibilities.

“We’re looking at the structure of economic relationships within the industry. With this project, we would like to advance agriculture as a comparative advantage in our state economy and as a driver of growth,” Graff said. “The agricultural industry presents growth opportunity for the future.”

Results of the Agricultural Value-Chain Analysis, which will draw on previously generated data, are expected in August. The Colorado Agricultural Cluster project is expected to evolve over the next three years as the industry addresses objectives of the Colorado Blueprint, and as its sectors pursue new partnerships, Rennels said.

For information about the Colorado Agricultural Cluster and upcoming meetings, contact Kathay Rennels, CSU assistant vice president for community and economic development, (970) 491-7304; or Tom Lipetzky, director of the Colorado Department of Agriculture Division of Markets, (303) 239-4114.

For information about the Colorado Blueprint, visit