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The Heartbeat of Our Communities: A Rancher’s Response to the Colorado River Debate

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Janie VanWinkle, VanWinkle Ranch

As a proud fourth-generation rancher in Mesa County, I find it crucial to recognize the invaluable contributions our industry makes to support the heartbeat of our rural communities. While the debate around agriculture's use of the Colorado River continues, it's essential to recognize that our farms not only feed the nation but also sustain local economies, provide jobs, and preserve traditions that are deeply rooted in our region's history.

On the local scale, each dollar put into the beef supply chain passes back through our economy seven times. As we look across the state, Colorado’s beef industry is the No. 1 agricultural commodity in Colorado, generating nearly $4 billion in revenue each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That represents more than 50 percent of total cash receipts from crops and livestock in Colorado, making beef the heavyweight in agriculture and an economic powerhouse industry in the state.

In addition to the economic values we bring to communities, agriculture also serves as a crucial cornerstone for wildlife habitat and open space preservation. Our farms provide a sanctuary for diverse ecosystems, offering refuge to various species that call these lands home. By cultivating our fields sustainably and embracing conservation practices, we not only produce food but also nurture biodiversity and protect vital habitats for wildlife. We take pride in our role as a natural resource and land stewards to ensure healthy landscapes. 

Our industry relies on a vibrant, thriving environment. We cannot produce a high-quality, sought-after protein source without healthy ecosystems. Similar to the neighborhoods and urban corridors outside our pastures and farms - water is our lifeblood. We, too, make choices each day to play a part in conserving and preserving water resources. Just as those in town choose not to run the faucet when brushing their teeth or taking shorter showers, we implement ranching techniques to reduce our water-use footprint. From rotational grazing, which moves livestock across the landscape in a planned manner to promote pasture regeneration, to improving irrigation processes that limit runoff and downstream water quality degradation, we want to be part of the solution. 

Doctors help us when we are sick, teachers educate our children, and farmers and ranchers grow the food to feed us all. It takes all of us to support a thriving community, just as it will take all of us to help tackle our water challenges. As stewards of the land, we take great pride in our role as caretakers of these valuable resources. Our connection to the Colorado River runs deep, and we understand the importance of responsible water usage and sustainable practices to ensure the longevity of our industry and the well-being of our communities. Let us work together to find solutions that honor the vital role agriculture plays in shaping the fabric of our society, providing habitat for wildlife, preserving open spaces, and ensuring a prosperous future for all.