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Boulder County farmers see policies as biggest constraint

Partners look at next steps to implement proposed solutions to help businesses
Farmer's Market (1 of 5)
Longmont Farmers Market (Photo by Matt Maenpaa)

Boulder County farmers said their highest constraints to business success come from local and state policies and lack of agricultural knowledge among policy makers.

In a first of its kind survey, staff from the CSU Extension in Boulder County, Boulder County Parks and Open Space, city of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks and Boulder County Community Planning and Permitting collaborated to understand the top constraints to local farm and ranch business success. The survey findings were released last month.

Mike Foster, agricultural resource divisions manager for Boulder County Parks and Open Space, said the survey was a great opportunity for farmers to provide input and feedback in a formal setting.

“A lot of this lines up directly with anecdotal information I’ve been hearing from our farmers over the last couple of years,” Foster said. “It was great to see that anecdotal information backed up with a more comprehensive survey.”

In the first phase of surveying, 57 farmers and ranchers with various levels of experience and amounts of annual sales ranked the most pressing agricultural business constraints for Boulder County. All groups ranked constraints caused by local and state policies and/or a lack of agricultural knowledge among policy makers the highest.

That’s something Foster believes that Parks and Open Space can help with by working to raise awareness with local elected officials around what it takes to do agriculture in Boulder County.

Something that also struck Foster was the second highest constraint for local farmers, which was the lack of local infrastructure for processing farm materials — things like  livestock slaughter, canning, processing and cold storage.

“If there’s no local infrastructure to process these materials, these commodities, then they’re going to Texas or far off in Weld County or Nebraska to get processed only to be shipped back to Boulder County for consumption,” Foster said.

He believed that having that local infrastructure would open up new markets and opportunities for farmers and ranchers.

Foster added that as more and more people try to eat locally produced food, a lot of the environmental benefits are lost if there aren’t places for farmers to process their goods in the county.

“Transportation costs and transportation miles to ship things to counties and communities far and wide to process the produce or livestock that’s grown here, only to then ship it back — I do think that that needs to be part of this equation of how do we reduce our carbon emissions,” Foster said.

Farmers in the survey suggested adjusting zoning laws to allow more agricultural-related commercial and industrial activities on ag zoned land, along with local grant or cost share opportunities.

Foster said that while parks and open space may not be able to build processing facilities for farmers, they do have some ability to address other infrastructure issues like fencing and crop losses to pest competition.

“I think that’s something we can as the county work with our tenants to really better understand what those competitors are and what we can do as the county to help them,” Foster said.

The collaborators on the survey plan to host a meeting sometime this fall or early winter to share progress and look for collaboration opportunities to put the survey results into action.

“We may not be able to tackle everything all at once, but is there one thing that really sort of rises to the top?” Foster said of next steps.

See the full report here.