Fourteen Colorado Farms and Ranches Host SARE Fellows
Eight County Agriculture Agents from around the nation viewed and accessed examples of sustainable agriculture practices at 14 Colorado sites during a three-day set of tours as part of the SARE Sustainable Agriculture Fellows Program May 15-17. These members of the National Association of County Agriculture Agents (NACAA) were invited into the Fellows Program to enhance their understanding of sustainable agriculture and give them a broad-based, national exposure to successful and unique sustainable agriculture programs. Upon their completion of the fellowship, each Fellow creates a plan to educate other ag agents in their area about sustainable agriculture practices.
The Fellows participating in this year’s program are Marlin Bates, University of Missouri; Jack C. Boles, Jr., University of Arkansas; Brad Burbaugh, University of Florida; Aaron Esser, Washington State University; Lauren Hunter, University of Idaho; Thomas R. Maloney, Cornell University; Jim Ochterski, Cornell University; and Suzanne Mills-Wasniak, Ohio State University. Biographies can be found here.
Dennis Lamm, Colorado State University Agriculture Extension Education Director and State SARE Coordinator, in collaboration with many other colleagues, located 14 Ft. Collins, Colo., area farms and ranches employing first-rate sustainable agriculture practices where the Fellows viewed firsthand the application of these principles. According to Lamm, “It was certainly our pleasure to host the eight SARE Fellows from diverse regions of the country. While it was a great opportunity to showcase the diversity and productivity of Colorado agriculture, we also gained the perspectives and insights of our guests. It was truly an educational experience for all involved.”
The featured farms and ranches include La Luna Dairy, Seaworth Farms, Quatrix Aquaponics, Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Sakata Farms, Isabelle Farms, Lookout Ridge Farm, Herston Hay and Cattle, Hazel Dell Mushrooms, JBS Kuner, Fagerberg’s, Croissant Red Angus, Shortgrass Steppe and Terry Bison Ranch. Size of operations range from small-scale operations to operations with 3,200 acres, and the farms grow crops such as wheat, onions, beans and mushrooms, among other produce. Ranches include bison, dairy cows, beef cattle and A1 sires. Practices observed included minimum tillage, drip irrigation, organic soil-building and pest control, energy efficiency, balance trait selection, GPS and other technology, among others. Download profiles of the participating farms.
Professional-Development-Program/Fellows. Fellows expressed the usefulness of viewing so many operations. Upon his return to New York, Jim Ochterski said, “It helps to have so many real-life operations to bank into my professional sustainable farming experience.”
Efficient use of water in a region that is experiencing a drought and has low rainfall was a common topic at each of the tour stops. At Seaworth Farms, the adoption of new technology has helped reduce water use and costs, while at Fagerberg’s, drip irrigation is used on 600 of their 1,400 acres, reducing water use by 40 percent. Drip irrigation also reduces chemical runoff and requires minimal tillage.
Encroachment from urban development was another concern for many of the producers. For example, La Luna Dairy faces challenges as they cannot expand their herd or grow their own feed due to surrounding housing developments. Owner John Slutsky communicates regularly with the community to dispel concerns and educate on his operation. Many of the producers discussed the general lack of understanding of agriculture by urban and suburban residents and the important need to reach this population as they have an impact on water use, policy and regulations in the region.
Lastly, a need for a passion in order to be successful was a view brought up by many. When Bob Sakata, 82, of Sakata Farms was asked how he meets challenges he stated, “I love what I do,” and he advised his son to return to the farm only if he also shared the passion. Another producer who clearly showed his passion was the young operator of Quatrix Aquaponics, Matthew Westenhaver, who enthusiastically gave a tour of his operation growing hydroponic greens with nutrients provided from fish tanks where tilapia are raised. He believes that this unique concept has the potential to provide a large quantity of food.
The Fellows discussed the strengths and weaknesses and the true sustainability of each operation. In addition to the farming and ranching practices, Fellows also looked at the economic sustainability. As Aaron Esser of Washington notes, “Sustainable agriculture has to be economically viable with a strong focus on resource conservation and soil enhancement. Sustainable agriculture also has to feed nine billion people in the near future! This will take all sectors of agriculture from small organic farmer market operations to the large 'corporate' operations to accomplish such a task with less land and water available for agricultural use.”
The SARE Sustainable Agriculture Fellows program is a two-year program jointly sponsored by NACAA and the SARE program with agents being selected on a competitive basis each year. One Fellow is chosen every year from each of the four geographic regions, based on application evaluations by a committee with reviewers from each region. Applicants are scored on information that they provide on their past experience, plans for reaching out to other extension personnel, potential impacts on and benefits for ag professionals and their clientele, and evaluation methods.