Colorado Proud Symposium focuses on future-proofing |

Colorado Proud Symposium focuses on future-proofing

The Colorado Proud Symposium was kicked off by Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg on Dec. 3.

Gov. Jared Polis reiterated the importance of agriculture and recognized the challenges the year brought for production agriculture as well as other segments of the food supply chain. Aside from the pandemic, he said producers have been facing a statewide drought and climate change that has brought hotter and drier weather. He touted the $1million of CARES funding that was allocated as emergency funding for small and mid-sized producers and said another $688,000 was made available this week to show the industry that it’s a priority. Polis also hinted at forthcoming soil health programs coming from the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

“We want to re-imagine the future of Colorado’s ag industry to ensure a brighter future for our farmers and ranchers and our workers,” Polis said.

Greenberg reiterated her goals for CDA, including supporting the next generation of farmers and ranchers, strengthening and diversifying market opportunities, promoting and incentivizing soil, water and climate stewardship, and supporting one another’s mental health.

She said looking ahead to 2021, the CDA has more strategies in place to meet goals despite certain uncertainty.

The panelists for the symposium included former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, president and CEO, U.S. Dairy Export Council and President-elect Biden’s recent appointee for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; Adam Schlegel, founder, Chook Chicken; co-founder, Snooze; Virginia Till, sustainable materials management coordinator and sustainable management of food lead, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 8; Dr. Dawn Thilmany McFadden, professor and co-director, Ag Resource Economics, Colorado State University; and William (Wil) Bledsoe IV, rancher, Bledsoe Ranch, Wild Horse, Colo.

Sec. Vilsack said the most significant takeaway from the year was the resiliency of the food supply chain and the need to continue to build resiliency into the system.

“I think we were all a little taken aback by the pandemic and the disruption of the supply chain early in the pandemic,” Vilsack said. “I thought it was remarkable that the food and ag system was able to respond and pivot relatively quickly to begin meeting the demands of those at home and throughout the United States and abroad.”

Vilsack said he realizes there was a time when ag products had to be dumped or destroyed and admits it was heartbreaking. Without a clear path and incentive to get those products to food banks, he said producers and processors would be asked to incur even greater losses to donate products. Building additional resiliency into the system, he said, could relieve this without financially penalizing processors and producers.

Vilsack went on to say that Colorado agriculture is tremendously diverse, an advantage in times of tumultuous commodity prices. The state’s commitment to value-added agriculture such as organic, he said, is also an advantage.

“There is also a strong link between what is being produced in your state and what is consumed in your state,” he said. “Several people mentioned the importance of local and regional markets. I think Colorado is a state that has really embraced that notion and provided alternative market opportunities for your producers where they aren’t necessarily wedded to the commodity price that is fixed someplace far away from Colorado, but is a result of negotiation between a restaurant and a producer, a school district and a producer, between a university and a producer.”

He said stabilizing prices and creating market opportunities is increasingly important, as the unprecedented government support – about 36 percent of farm income- seen this year is unlikely to continue.

“Those new income opportunities are directly linked to our response to climate,” he said. “The opportunity to capture methane and convert it into something more valuable, the opportunity to convert agricultural waste product into a variety of chemicals and materials, fibers, fuels, and energy creates a whole new revenue stream.”

Vilsack said ecosystem markets, or paying farmers to sequester carbon, or focus on reuse and conservation of water, all creates ways farmers and ranchers can potentially benefit from diversification of income, making government support less necessary.

Dr. McFadden said she anticipates a rebalancing of portfolios, especially as the pandemic revealed the possibility of an over dependence upon foreign markets. She said there have been indications from the Biden administration that climate will play a significant role in policy, making her anticipate that ecosystem markets will grow, especially as it matches consumer trends.

Bledsoe said challenges and uncertainty is nothing new to those in production agriculture, reiterating the need for adding value and efficiency.

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