“Sustainable agriculture” is a phrase being thrown around a lot these days, and the Voices of Rural Colorado Conference tackled the issue in Denver last week. Accountability, resilience and adaptability were among the words used to define “sustainable” during a panel discussion on the future of agriculture in Colorado. Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Executiv Vice President Terry Fankhauser, Colorado Corn Administrative Committee Nick Colglazier, and Colorado Farm Bureau Director of Public Policy Austin Vincent participated in the panel discussion. Fankhauser summed up the difficulty in defining sustainability when it applies to agriculture. He noted that even many current farming practices are labeled “unsustainable” because of irresponsible use of available information. He said recent environmental talks all centered on eliminating livestock agriculture, “It’s a term you know but everybody asks for a definition,” he said. “It starts with accountability. You have to be intellectually honest, be accountable for what you say, and that has not happened.” As an example, Fankhauser pointed to the incorrect use of data when talking about agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 37 percent of methane emissions come from livestock. While that sound like a lot, it’s only a tiny fraction of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, if all livestock operations were eliminated, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by only 2.6 percent. And, the USDA says, methane affects the atmosphere for a much shorter time than carbon dioxide, which is the largest greenhouse gas. Greenberg implied that agriculture, by its very nature, is sustainable simple because it is adaptable. She resilience is a hallmark of agriculture, and the industry has changed to meet the needs of a changing world. “Resilience is the ability to bounce back, to pursue the heart and soul of what you’re doing,” she said. “Take the ongoing drought; people are getting creative in adapting to that, and they’re succeeding. We have to connect stewardship to market opportunities. Our world is changing and we have to change with it.” Colglazier said sustainability depends on three “pillars;” environmental, economic and societal. In other words, it has to feature good stewardship of the land and other natural resources; it has to pay the bills; and it has to be appreciated by society in general. Vincent agreed with Greenberg on agriculture’s adaptability, and he said that’s a concept that needs to be taught to urbanites as well. “It’s hard to understand agriculture if you’re not in it,” he said.
Panel members agreed that the future for Colorado’s agriculture could be bright, but it’s not without risk. Colglzaier seemed entirely optimistic because he said he looks at at the global demand for U.S. ag products. There is a growing middle class in China and Asia, he said, and sustainability is taking on global importance. And that is an area in which agriculture has always excelled.
Greenberg was more cautious, saying there is opportunity in Colorado for agriculture to grow but it’s not without risk.
“As cities grow, I think more people will find a connection to agriculture,” she said. “We just have to be persistent in getting our message out there.”
Fankhauser said he thinks ag’s future is good as long as it has an opportunity to grow.
“Ag shouldn’t have an entitlement to survive, but it does deserve the chance to survive,” he said. SOURCE: DAILY CAMERA