Local agriculture

The League of Women Voters does good work. In its latest effort, the league has put together a meeting to inform those of us who are not farmers or ranchers about issues, concerns and trends in local agriculture. It is set for 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at Durango Public Library and should be well worth attending.

Agriculture is fundamental, of course. People need to eat, and organized agriculture is the basis of civilization. Beyond those obvious truths, however, local agriculture serves a number of social and societal goods and contributes greatly to life in La Plata County.

Most of those benefits are not monetary. Southwest Colorado is high and dry. Its growing season is not as long as in other areas, and water is scarce in many places. And with those factors, agriculture around here is not the economic driver it can be in some places.

But there are other aspects to celebrate. Open space is one; as the saying goes, better cows than condos. There is the continuation of the agrarian lifestyle that so many of us have somewhere in our past or family history, and in institutions such as 4-H in which children can learn healthy values.

Perhaps most heartening is the resurgence of small farms. From the farmers market to locally owned stores, more and more area cooks can avail themselves of fresh, wholesome vegetables and locally raised and processed meats. This is not only food that is better for us, it is food that tastes great as well.

For all that, local farmers and ranchers are not immune to the challenges everyone in agriculture faces. To look at those and to try to gauge where La Plata County agriculture might be in five to 10 years, the league has put together a panel of local experts for Wednesday’s event. Included are Trent Taylor of Blue Horizon Farms, Patti Buck of American National CattleWomen Inc., Maria Baker of a Southern Ute ranching family, water-expert Steve Harris and Darrin Parmenter, county director and Colorado State University extension agent. The moderator will be Marsha Porter-Norton.

Some topics to be addressed will be changing technology, government regulations, finance, markets, transportation and competition. And central to all of this will be the availability of water, the effects of climate change and how all of this will affect the likelihood of successful farming and ranching.

The discussion of climate change and the future of water should, in itself, justify attending. The U.S. Forest Service has already seen species of plants moving up in elevation. How might local crops change in the future? What will that mean for ranchers? How will technology apply? Will plants made adaptable to drought lessen resistance to genetically modified crops? And is there an opportunity in this as well as a challenge?

There is a lot to talk about, a lot to think about and, for most of us, a lot to learn. Find out what we grow and raise in La Plata County at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at Durango Public Library. And thanks to the League of Women Voters for taking this on. It is an important topic, one that touches us all.

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