Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program tries to bridge gaps

Samantha Fox

Application period open

Those interested in joining the next Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program in February 2019, can now apply. Applications are available at and are due by Sept. 30.

There are two steps to the process. There’s an application and a face-to-face interview. There is a large time commitment to CALP, so being able to join does depend on the persons ability to take part in the seminars.

The agricultural landscape in Colorado isn’t limited to only a few industries. Agriculture in the San Luis Valley, the Western Slope, the eastern plains and everything in between brings its own unique needs, issues and products. But with that diversity, there also is a natural separation by producers who stick to their location.

That’s one of the gaps the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program tries to bridge while giving participants an opportunity to build their leadership skills to find ways to better themselves within their individual industries and become an advocate for agriculture.

“I think it really opens their eyes to how broad agriculture is, but at the same time, how small it is and everyone’s on the same team, no matter the politics,” said Dani Traweek, executive director of CALP.

CALP is a two-year program with seminars almost every month during the class.

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The seminars highlight different aspects of Colorado’s agriculture, and also include one national and one international trip.

The program was started in the 1980s, and there are programs in 38 other states and in seven other countries, according to Traweek. The program originally was funded through a grant from Kellogg. Eventually, though Colorado State University took over the program.


In the early 2000s, the program was cut because there just wasn’t enough funding available.

But that wasn’t something Colorado Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg wanted to let fail because of a lack of funding.

Sonnenberg knew, first-hand, how the program helped to build agricultural leaders. He participated in the program in the early 2000s when CSU first took over the program from the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Sonnenberg partnered with former Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar to get the program going again.

This time, though, they decided not to allow another source’s funding to determine the program’s fate and made CALP a 501c3 nonprofit.

Traweek said making sure funds are there for the program is an important aspect to her job, as well as making sure travel costs, meals and other expenses are covered, especially since it costs about $15,000-$18,000 per member for the two-year program.

One of the most important and time-consuming aspects to Traweek’s position is coming up with a curriculum that will give CALP members a fruitful experience.

One way that happens is through the national trip. Each CALP class takes a 10-day trip to visit another state and Washington, D.C.


The current CALP class visited Florida a week after Hurricane Irma left plenty of damage to the citrus crop. Maggie Hanna is one of the current CALP class members, and said it brought a new perspective to one of the most common elements in agriculture: water.

“It is vastly different,” she said of Florida and Colorado farmers and their relationships with water. “I think being able to see what those producers have to deal with, and it’s interesting because water is water is water.”

But, even with the different crops, problems and solutions, at the end of the day, these agriculture producers all have the same goal, according to Rian Bernhardt.

“The types of agriculture that they have in Florida may be different, but we all have the same common goal of trying to feed the world,” the current CALP member said.

While Florida’s agriculture industry is vastly different than Colorado’s, there is still a largely diverse industry within the state of Colorado.

The wheat and cattle industry on the eastern plains doesn’t face the same problems as peach producers in Palisade or cantaloupe producers in Rocky Ford or sheep producers in the Western Slope.

Many agricultural producers can find themselves only knowing and understanding their own region, and to be affective advocates for the state’s whole agricultural industry, it’s important also to learn about the industry in other parts of the state.

“(CALP) really opened my eyes to the Western Slope,” said Tracee Bentley, an alum of the CALP program and a current board member.

That was a big motivation for Eric Brown, too, who was in CALP from 2015-16. The former editor of The Fence Post said coming from Kansas and working in Weld County, he was well-versed in the industry there, but didn’t have the same knowledge in other areas of the state.

“That broader perspective was really valuable, and not only to understand the differences but also to know where you have common ground and finding allies around the industry that you might not have known about otherwise,” he said.


Bentley was part of the first class when the CALP program returned as a nonprofit. She said she wanted to join the program before it was temporarily gone, so when she heard CALP was coming back in 2012, she applied right away.

“After my experience in the program, I came out even more of a believer,” she said, adding her time in the program motivated her to join the board.

One of the most valuable lessons Bentley said she learned was how diverse an agricultural country the United States is compared with China, which is where her class went for its international trip.

Part of that, also, stems from the way different industries work with agriculture and vice versa. She said that’s not something she saw as part of China’s agricultural identity.

The program also gives members a chance to learn more about their own specific areas.

Bernhardt lives and works in eastern Colorado, and one of the seminars in 2017 included a tour of Cargill in Fort Morgan, which is a meat processing plant. He said it brought new lessons about the full scope of the cattle industry in the plains.

Bentley’s class was the first to take on a project CALP does annually now, the Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture. The current CALP class is in charge of running the entire forum, and it’s when the current class graduates and the new class begins.

Leading the governor’s forum brings the one-day February meeting full circle for CALP participants, according to Sonnenberg. He said the forum began as a CALP project before the Colorado Department of Agriculture took it over.

Having CALP run the forum helps promote the leadership skills of members, which is a big part of the curriculum. Improving at public speaking was part of the reason Sonnenberg joined CALP.

“We need people that can speak up, deliver a message … for rural issues,” Sonnenberg said.

— Fox is a reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at, (970) 392-4410 or on Twitter @FoxonaFarm.