Jo Stanko: State agriculture by the numbers |

Jo Stanko: State agriculture by the numbers

— Colorado is a state of great diversity and contrasts, with her line of mountain ranges stretching from the northern border to the southern border, her high desert region in the west and her high plains in the east. She presents a wide variety of opportunities for recreation, education and occupation. When most people think about Colorado, they might think about the diversity represented by her national parks and monuments: the high mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park, the red sculptures of Garden of the Gods, the plains of the Pawnee Grasslands and the stories about the past at Mesa Verde, just to name a few. However, as people look and think about Colorado, there is one sector of the state that, while it exists in some form in every county, people either don't see or take for granted — and that is agriculture.

People don't see Colorado as an agricultural state, and yet, the numbers speak otherwise. During this economic downturn of the past few years, while many sectors of the economy also have declined, agriculture hasn't. In the county, the actual dollars produced by agriculture have remained the same for the past couple of decades. While tourism and construction rise and fall, this sector of the economy forms a foundation on which the county can count. At the state level, the economic value agriculture has provided to the state has increased from $16 billion to $20 billion. In addition to the agriculture dollars, agriculture has produced about $33 million in tourism. Livestock is responsible for 67 percent of the market value of Colorado agriculture products, and the current market value in dollars of livestock sold in this state is about $4.1 million.

Besides economic benefit to the state, agriculture provides other benefits. It is privately owned agriculture land that provides 75 percent of the state's wildlife habitat. The state's agriculture provides jobs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 27 percent of the jobs within the state rely on a healthy agricultural production system. These jobs run the gamut from engineers and scientists to researchers and manufacturing, transportation, advertising, software development and field hands. More than 100 countries import agricultural products from Colorado.

Each farmer and rancher has been able to increase the number of people they feed by 42 during the past decade because of increased efficiency in resource management and production techniques. Even with this increased efficiency, it is reported that there are about 17 million children who go hungry in the United States daily. Greater efficiency needs to be reached because by 2050 it is estimated that the world population will have doubled.

Who are these people involved in agriculture in the state of Colorado? Luckily for those of us in the state, they have a passion for what they do. They are less than 1 percent of the population. Their average age is 57, and they farm and ranch on an average land size of 865 acres. They spend an average of $146,577 on expenses, and their average net cash receipts are only $26,149. They work seven days a week and 365 days a year.

Who benefits from the hard work of these people? The entire population of the state benefits from their conservation efforts, economic efforts and environmental efforts. One hundred percent of the population benefits from the food they produce and the products that are manufactured from the byproducts. These byproducts are used in medicine, home maintenance and decor, beauty products, bicycles, plastics, computers — everything that people do for work, recreation or modern existence.

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Routt County rancher Jo Stanko is a past president of Colorado CattleWomen.

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