sunset over Rocky Mountains and foothills with an irrigation ditch – aerial view, northern Colorado near Loveland

The Colorado Ag Water Alliance hosted its biennial summit in December, and this year the focus will expand beyond the agriculture community.
The summit was held Dec. 5 in Loveland, Colo., and Greg Peterson, executive director of the Colorado Ag Water Alliance, said the purpose of the event was to tell the story about the relationship between agriculture and water.
“That’s really the grand hope: getting a lot of these people who are really unfamiliar with agriculture to walk away with a better understanding of why farmers and ranchers do what they do with water,” Peterson said, “why they grow what they grow, why they use certain forms of irrigation, but also exactly what water does in these rural communities; there’s a lot more than just growing crops.”
In the past, the summit was geared for those in the agriculture community, but the change comes at a time when there are a lot of misperceptions about the relationship between agriculture and water.
One of the talks is titled “We’re losing more than food,” which features Matt Heimerich. Heimerich is a farmer in Crowley County and will speak about what happens when agriculture leaves a community.

“It impacts an entire community and all the businesses that rely on agriculture,” Peterson said.

He wants the summit to appeal to a larger audience, rather than the simply agriculture-focus it was in the past. Peterson’s background wasn’t in water. He was a “city boy” with a history and politics background before he started to learn more about the intricacies of water, particularly when it involves agriculture.
Water is becoming a more important topic in Colorado as urban areas continue to grow without the water sources growing to compensate for the population growth.
“Another idea we’re trying to convey is that farmers are responsible, rational people,” Peterson said. “And I know that sounds like a basic idea, but if you talk to some people, you think that they aren’t rational, they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re irresponsible and that their choices are not based in reality, but they actually are. They have to make a lot of hard decisions.”
The conference also will have non-agriculture speakers, including representatives from Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited. Those groups are focused on conservation, which sometimes is perceived to be separate from agriculture, but water is an area, which has brought them together.
“We’re trying to really get (farmers and ranchers) to communicate about what agriculture does, more than just grow food,” he said. “How does it supply jobs, how do these irrigated meadows up in the high Rockies contribute to tourism and just aesthetic values. I don’t think people realize that’s irrigated pasture land,” he said.
As originally published in The Fence Post by Samantha Fox on November 17, 2017
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