Opinion by Mark Waltermire, Sep 1, 2022
Colorado’s farms are at peak production, market season is in full-swing and the season’s bounty is being served up on tables across the state. In this hot weather, as we enjoy Colorado’s local food cornucopia, we should think of the farmers and farmworkers up early and in the fields, working to feed the nation. Farming is hard work, which many people appreciate.
The hard work of farming includes much more than just the field work. It includes building and maintaining ditches to get water to our crops and roads to get those crops to market. So when Congress passed and President Biden signed the infrastructure law this year, I saw it as a boost to my ability to turn hard work in my fields into a living that works for me.
The infrastructure act also makes progress in addressing climate change. Everyone knows drought is a real threat to agriculture, but so is heat. Heat hurts our crops, it hurts our animals and it can be deadly for those who have to work outside. Using this investment to help prepare for a climate-smart and adapted future will be good for farming, too.
Climate change is here, and farming, our food systems and the supply chain are all especially vulnerable. Unless we get ready now, the hurt will only be worse down the road, which is why another new law, the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), also makes good sense.
For agriculture, rural communities and conservation, the IRA is a big win for several reasons. It helps make our farms and communities more resilient. It prioritizes funding to restore and protect watershed and public land health, for instance, and to improve soil health.
The IRA also takes huge steps in reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution. While we need to prepare for the heating that is here and to come by adapting our systems to be more resilient (and the new law begins to do that), we really need to stop making the problem worse.
This legislation does that as well, by increasing the uptake of more renewable energy and supporting rural electric co-ops in that transition. And it accomplishes an important third component, too, just as crucial as these first two. By focusing on improving land health and conservation practices, the IRA can help us better manage carbon by encouraging practices that return and store carbon in the ground, in soils and in natural systems.
The potential here cannot be overstated for western Colorado, and rural communities in particular, should seek to actively lead in this effort to center land-use and agriculture as climate action. For example, an analysis by the Colorado Farm and Food Alliance has found that the ability to store carbon in soil on farmland just within five counties on the Western Slope could be increased by more than ten-fold by shifting to incorporate more cover-cropping.
Relatively small investments in these practices will make a real difference. Resources that help farmers strengthen their resiliency and improve techniques — resources that are increased under the IRA — can be a real boost. The future of farming, even our survivability in the American Southwest, means we need to get this right. Let’s make sure the funding available for infrastructure and in bolstering healthy natural systems and the ecological services they provide finds its way to our farms and ranches.
By investing in rural communities through resources dedicated to restoring land, watershed, and soil health — as well as supporting more home-grown renewable power — we can all help in bringing real benefit to our communities as we address the climate crisis. Western Colorado can and should be a global leader in rural climate action. We should welcome and seize the opportunity the new Inflation Reduction Act brings.
Mark Waltermire owns and operates Thistle Whistle Farm outside of Hotchkiss and is active with the Valley Organic Growers Association, Colorado Farm and Food Alliance and other projects that promote secure, equitable and resilient farms and local food systems.