Recent Colorado talks on ag, climate simultaneously bring out optimism, concern
June 23, 2014
While in Greeley last week, Colorado State University professor Scott Denning explained to a small crowd the effort to create a non-carbon emitting economy worldwide would cost roughly $700 billion per year.
That message actually was delivered in optimism.
It's roughly 1 percent of the world's Gross Domestic Product, estimated at $72 trillion, he explained while referring to economists' analysis of climate change.
Percentage-wise, it's the kind of dollar spending people have done in recent centuries, such as when humans spent roughly 1 percent of what then was the world's GDP to make the conversion to indoor plumbing.
"We've done it before," he said enthusiastically, adding the dollars spent "didn't just disappear," but created new jobs and industries, in addition to moving the world forward.
"It was amazingly expensive, but worth it," he said. "I don't think any of us regret the move to indoor plumbing."
While their investments make only a small dent toward such a large sum, Colorado farmers who joined Denning at the "Agriculture, Adaptation and Rural Colorado's Future" meeting — held at the Weld County Extension office last week, and put on by the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs — explained how they and others in ag are spending dollars and changing practices to reduce their emissions and also prepare themselves for raising crops and livestock in a climate that could be very different from the one they're working in today.
For the approximately 25 people on hand, there wasn't any debate on climate change.
In his presentation, Denning, a professor in CSU's Department of Atmospheric Sciences, stressed there's no getting around the basic scientific facts that putting carbon in the atmosphere will make global temperatures increase, and that under the status quo, Colorado's annual climate down the road could resemble the heat and dryness seen today 500 to 1,000 miles farther to the south — southern New Mexico, Texas and Mexico.
It was stressed by Denning and those in attendance that such shifts in the weather would dramatically change Colorado's agriculture.
It was a local, emissions-talk icing on the cake in a week that featured President Barack Obama announcing new carbon rules Monday, and one that also included the release of an Associated Press report which showed that since 1984, 92 percent of the 500 cities and regions examined in the report have warmed, and nearly two-thirds of them have warmed by at least one degree.
"There's no doubt the weather is different now than what I've seen earlier in my life," said Monty Niebur, a 75-year-old corn, wheat and bean grower out on the eastern Plains, near Akron. He said he's implemented strip-till, no-till and minimum-till practices where appropriate on his fields, helping maintain soil moisture and — in some cases — reduce tractor trips across his fields.
He's also composting his fields as a more natural way of enhancing his soil.
"It's still kind of a balancing act, seeing what works for us and what really makes a difference in the end," he said. "Regardless, we in agriculture need to be doing things differently."
Michael Baute — a Larimer County farmer in his 30s who grows produce on about 30 acres for local farmers markets and also through the Community Supported Agriculture program — agreed.
Baute said he's looking to possibly make the switch from planting produce each year to having a more "perennial polyculture" system that would require less working of the soil and, for the ground he would need to work, doing so with livestock, rather than continue using his tractor and keep "playing the diesel market."
Additionally, Luke Runyon — a reporter with KUNC in Greeley and Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaboration of public radio stations throughout the U.S. — shared stories from his reporting, such as the efforts being done at a deficit-irrigation research farm near Greeley.
He also spoke about how the Agricultural Research Service in Fort Collins has done tests that show how noxious weeds might thrive in a warmer climate down the road, causing additional headaches for crop growers.
All in attendance stressed the need for communicating the reality of climate change, its impact on ag and also the need for all of agriculture to work together — potentially "creating new synergies" between large, conventional operations and small, local operations, rather than staying at odds with one another — to maximize all resources. ❖