Opinion: Farmers, researchers, state have role to play in making water supplies go further

Living along the Front Range, the Colorado mountains are a vision of beauty and wonder. To most Coloradans, the mountains in winter provide entertainment through skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, and other seasonal activities. But to agricultural producers, we always have the question of whether there’s enough snowpack to provide water for irrigation in the spring and summer.

I would love to say that today the mountains are covered with snow and therefore we are hopeful for an abundance of water come spring, but unfortunately, across Colorado, our communities — agricultural, recreational, environmental, and municipal — continue to anticipate and dread drought.

As one of nine Governor appointees to the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Commission, and a fourth generation farmer from the Eastern Plains, I believe it is critical that we support and engage our public institutions as they work together to advance key partnerships, research, and opportunities to create a more resilient future for us all. That is why I take great pride in the opportunity to serve our state: I get to help organizations like the Colorado Department of Agriculture invest meaningfully in our future.

Take the CSU Water Center as an example, which leads on research, education, and engagement when it comes to water resources. Both CSU and CDA are working to create opportunities for farmer- and rancher-led regenerative agricultural practices and our partnership has created many new opportunities for Colorado. The Colorado Agricultural Commission recently submitted a letter to the Colorado Water Center offering support as they address climate related water challenges facing agriculture.

Colorado has been a leader on regenerative agricultural practices in the West. CDA’s STAR (Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources) program helps producers advance voluntary soil health management to increase water efficiency, enhance soil’s holding capacity for water, and improve producers’ bottom lines. Colorado’s producers have long been advocating in support of soil health and the STAR program is farmer- and rancher-driven from the very start. CSU will be our data and research partner on this program, deploying the strategic technology to help us understand climate benefits of healthy soil practices and how farmers and ranchers can adapt agricultural production to changing conditions.

CDA is also investing in watershed health and drought resilience projects that benefit from CSU-vetted research. With recent major federal grants that focus on conservation goals in soil, water, vegetation, and production practices, our agency relies on feasibility studies and technical assistance to get projects off the ground and impact the daily operations of our producers.

Colorado is experiencing increased stress on our water supply. It is critical for the Colorado Water Center to be invested in research to support farmers in adopting new and diverse crops, practices, and technologies that are water efficient and drought resilient. CDA and the Water Center align to support forward-thinking policy and implement climate-smart practices that will help achieve water savings, support agricultural production, and drive new market opportunities for Colorado’s agricultural producers.

There are pressing water issues facing Colorado. We must find solutions through intentional partnerships and supportive collaboration from all the areas impacted by the extreme changes in our natural resource systems. The research in which the Colorado Water Center is engaged will aid in addressing those shared water challenges.

CDA is committed to supporting projects and people that will move the needle on drought and climate resilience. But we can’t do it alone. These projects require commitment from producers, agencies, and research institutions. We are all crucial to the success of Colorado’s agriculture future.

I encourage you to get involved in efforts that support the work of critical institutions such as the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Provide your unique agricultural insights on drought issues to the Water Center or your local CSU extension agent and participate in their programs. Volunteer to provide a “test plot” in your location for soil and drought tests or get involved with your local conservation district. There are countless ways to use your voice to actively shape a more resilient, vibrant future for Colorado agriculture.

Colleen Peppler was born and raised on a dryland wheat farm in Washington County, Colorado. She and her husband own and operate 500 irrigated acres along the front range, currently raising alfalfa hay, corn, wheat and brewing barley. Colleen is an agriculture spokesperson for Common Ground, a group of more than 200 farm women across 20 states, president of Weld County Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Chapter, and serves on the Board of Directors for Colorado Foundation for Agriculture. She and her husband have a grown son and daughter who are both managing partners of Peppler Farms, LLC. The Peppler/Muhme Farm is a designated Colorado Centennial Farm.

Email: colleen.peppler@state.co.us

 

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