Growing Returns

Colorado farmers have a lot to say about the state’s first-ever water plan

colorado landscapeThis post was co-written by Mark Harris, general manager for the Grand Valley Water Users' Association.

In a recent op-ed, the Colorado Forum – a nonpartisan organization of CEOs and civic leaders – delivered a powerful message to Governor Hickenlooper, who is drafting a first-ever Colorado Water Plan to confront the state’s growing water demands.

The forum’s message: we must all work together to secure a water future that keeps Colorado a world class place to live, visit, work and play.

The forum made a handful of recommendations in the article, but one stood out to us as particularly relevant as we attempt to balance many competing interests in a single water plan: agriculture must be given the freedom and opportunity to thrive in Colorado’s water future. Read More »

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My hope for the global water crisis: Farmers

farmer Agriculture accounts for more than 80 percent of all water consumed in the U.S.

Some people might read that figure and think, “farmers are using all of our water!” But I see it differently. I see potential.

That’s because farmers and ranchers are the original environmentalists, water conservationists and land stewards. They have been, and continue to be, among the first to develop innovative water efficiency solutions, and they are already implementing a variety of practices to optimize their water use and adapt to drought and climate change.

On World Water Day, it’s important to remember that farmers are our best hope for solving the global water crisis. Read More »

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A sixth-generation farmer with a fresh and optimistic perspective on conservation

O'Toole Family

Pat O'Toole (second from left) and his family at Ladder Ranch.

Pat O’Toole is a rancher and farmer at Ladder Livestock, a sixth-generation family operation on the Little Snake River along the Wyoming-Colorado border. A leader in collaborative conservation, Pat is engaged in a number of innovative land and water conservation efforts in his capacity as president of the Family Farm Alliance and a member of the AGree advisory board.

This past September, Pat co-authored an AGree paper with Dan Keppen, Executive Director of Family Farm Alliance. The paper – Securing the Future of Western Agriculture: A Perspective of Western Producers – addresses some broad challenges facing the global food and agriculture system. Namely, the need to meet future demands for food while simultaneously enhancing water, soil and other natural resources.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Pat’s ranch to get a sense of these challenges that he and other Western producers face, and to learn more about what Pat is doing to overcome these challenges on his ranch. I asked him to give us a recap of our discussion and to tell us more about his vision for the future.
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Stories of young farmers, water and resilience

Mike De Smet. Photo credit: National Young Farmers Coalition

Mike De Smet. Photo credit: National Young Farmers Coalition

I recently blogged about the growing gap between water supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin, and how the default solution too often involves permanently taking water out of agricultural irrigation and transferring it to meet the needs of a growing urban population.

Alternative solutions do exist – ones that don’t leave farmland unproductive and threaten the agricultural economy that sustains us all. To prove this point, I would like to turn to the stories of a few young farmers who, despite record drought in the arid Southwest, have begun to adapt through innovative drought mitigation and water-saving practices, proving that increased productivity and healthy ecosystems can coexist.

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The Colorado River Basin can’t afford to leave farmers out to dry

farmer irrigatingOn Colorado River Day, it’s worth considering how we can write the next chapter in the water story of the American West.

With the recent news that Lake Mead is at its lowest level in history, it’s impossible to ignore the trajectory of America’s hardest-working river. In the Colorado River Basin, we are already using more water annually than is being supplied by snowpack and other precipitation. The Bureau of Reclamation and others predict that this gap in water supply and demand will increase to nearly 4 million acre-feet by 2060, with significant shortages possible as early as 2017.

It has become clear that, over time, our water uses are going to have to change. In thinking about where – in what sectors – this change should take place, we must also consider the environmental, cultural and economic services that each sector provides.

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