Each February, agriculturalist from across the state gather in Denver, Colo., to hear from speakers that focus on the future of agriculture in Colorado. This year’s theme, “Cultivating Innovation: Creating Ideas for Our Future,” showcased the critical role that innovation plays in the future of U.S. agriculture.
“Innovation is a key to our future in agriculture as we consider the challenges ahead, and all of us, from producers to policy-makers, play a part in advancing innovation,” said Commission of Agriculture John Salazar.
The forum, held on Feb. 14, at the Renaissance Hotel, addressed important issues through the lens of Colorado agriculture, which contributes an estimated $40 billion each year to the state economy and employs an estimated 173,000 people.
Salazar said, “I believe the biggest challenge that agriculture faces is educating the urban public about agriculture. There is not a single member of the house committee that has any ambition or knowledge of agriculture. The best way to educate a public is to educate ourselves.”
He continued, “We need to develop leaders in the agricultural community to serve on local, state and national boards and political positions. Otherwise we have lost this industry, because there are very few people who understand this industry.”
The honorable Governor John Hickenlooper also spoke to the attendees. “If anyone ever tells you that ag didn’t get us out of this recession, they are nuts. The money sifts its way through the entire community, and allowed us to look at opportunities to kick start other parts of the economy,” he said.
He then talked about the Pedal the Plains event, which was held last July in Eastern Colorado. “People kept coming up to me the whole time and thanking me, because they had been in Colorado their whole lives and never knew this area existed. The more we can exchange the reservoir of information and experience, and let people know what it means to be a part of the ag industry, the more support we will have when we need to make difficult decisions,” Hickenlooper stated.
Following his speech, Colorado State University President Dr. Tony Frank was introduced. He talked to the attendees about the challenges in agriculture, and the needs that agriculture has to overcome those challenges.
“Feeding nine billion [people] in our children’s lifetime will be challenge for us. Fewer and fewer people are connected to agriculture and understand agriculture. Moving forward without that understanding is an additional hurdle we all face,” he said.
Then he talked about the needs. “The first thing that we need is great science. We need to bring the expertise of many disciplines and work together. In our land grant and research universities, we need to hire people who will make progress and are committed to food security globally,” Frank said.
He continued, “Alignment is the second issue. We can’t have the mismatch or duplication that we have had. If we are going to meet these challenges, we have to do a better job of aligning federal research and development, research at universities and what the industries need.”
Next, Frank talked about the last two needs of the industry. “The third challenge is to make sure we loop in all aspects of agriculture. Those will be vital players,” he said.
He added, “The fourth challenge is to make progress around ag education and ag literacy. There are people from urban backgrounds who influence policies without the understanding or connection to agriculture.”
Ongoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has served for four years as steward of the nation’s public lands, headlined the forum, and followed Frank’s address.
“We are leading the way in so many places. We need to celebrate agriculture, and create opportunity for rural America,” he said.
He continued, “People should feel good about what is going on in rural America.”
He then talked about the production in America, and how that has helped rural communities. “We have the best food that we produce here in America in agriculture. We continue to grow that market, and create opportunities for rural America. When we speak about rural America, we talk about the importance of what it does for food security, energy security and heritage.
He then shifted his focus, and spoke about energy and climate change. “These are important issues that affect rural America. We doubled the amount produced in the last four years, and have harnessed the power of wind and captured power of the sun,” he said.
He added, “We are in a very good place. The energy future is in our hands. Rural America will play a keystone role in what is not just imperative in America, but the entire world.”
Ken Salazar is a former U.S. Senator for Colorado, and is a fifth-generation Colorado resident and has helped run his historic family farming and ranching operation, El Rancho Salazar, on the southern edge of the San Luis Valley. He is the brother of Commissioner John Salazar.
The keynote speaker for the morning was Michael Raynor, who wrote “The Innovator’s Manifesto — Deliberate disruption for breakthrough growth.” He spoke to the attendees about innovation, and how to pursue innovation in the agricultural industry.
“Innovation is especially powerful when it is disruptive. If innovation is predictable, it can be managed differently. The pursuit of innovation can be deliberate now,” he said.
He continued, “Agriculture is one of those markets that many people dismiss. I believe that fundamentally is not about price competition at the market, it’s usually a new commodity, new technology, new source of supply or new type of organization.”
Leann Saunders, President of Where Food Comes From, Inc., and Undersecretary Michael Scuse, USDA Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, talked about how to connect producers and consumers on where food comes from.
The attendees then broke for lunch, and were given a legislative update by Danny Tomlinson, Tomlinson and Associates, Senator Gail Schwartz and Representative Randy Fischer.
In the afternoon, two sets of four breakout sessions took place, including a history of water law, innovating for customer growth, a Farm Bill update, resources for Colorado producers interested in farm to school, a farmer/rancher drought survey and a session on the food safety modernization act proposed rules on produce safety and on preventative controls for human food.
After the breakout sessions, attendants participated in the Colorado Ag Hall of Fame Reception, and the Hall of Fame Banquet. Both events were hosted by the Colorado FFA Foundation.
The forum was co-hosted by the Colorado Department of Agriculture and Colorado State University. The Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture is held in conjunction with the Colorado FFA Foundation’s Agriculture Hall of Fame Banquet. ❖
The more we can exchange the reservoir of information and experience, and let people know what it means to be a part of the ag industry, the more support we will have when we need to make difficult decisions.”
~ Governor John Hickenlooper