By Greg Peterson, the Colorado Ag Water Alliance
I could be wrong, but Longmont farmer Jerry Hergenreder is probably twice my age and can set a dozen siphon tubes while I’m still struggling with one. By the tenth attempt, I was gazing longingly at the center pivot sprinkler in the next field wondering how he does this at 6:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. to irrigate his sugar beet field. Despite seeming inefficient, this method of irrigation is ideal for certain crops, producing better yields than more “modern” irrigation methods. However, this revelation didn’t compare to when I learned that you only get one mature ear of sweet corn for each stalk or how to tell a bale of hay from a bale of alfalfa (one is greener, but be careful, sometimes they mix hay and alfalfa). These lessons are important, especially for a city slicker like me who consumes food every day but doesn’t really understand the infrastructure, work, and water necessary for the food I eat.
Jerry Hergenreder’s farm was just one stop on a recent tour by The Colorado Ag Water Alliance for people outside of agriculture to learn more about irrigation, conservation, how water is used in agriculture, and what problems farmers face. Water resource engineers, consultants, legislators, lobbyists, students, conservationists and congressional staff joined us on two tours: one in the Greeley area and another in Longmont, Fort Lupton and Brighton.
It was a great opportunity to meet farmers and ask them directly how they use water, the different types of irrigation they use and why they grow certain crops. Both tours began with a presentation by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Division of Water Resources and an overview of the value chain of agriculture in Colorado. With this as the backdrop, we quickly got into the fields.
Up in Greeley, the tour explored several sites including the Eckhardt Farm and Fagerberg Farm, ditch diversions, recharge ponds, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture- Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) testing site. Speaker after speaker emphasized the importance and complexity of return flows and showed how farmers along the South Platte are interconnected through water and irrigation practices. In Longmont, Fort Lupton and Brighton, we also toured the Fulton and Brighton Ditches, spoke with ditch riders, and visited Sakata Farms and River Garden Vineyard, the only vineyard in Weld County. The programs also included presentations on ditch administration, soil health, and the state of young farmers in Colorado.
On the tours, the impact of Colorado’s growth is hard not to notice. Rapid urbanization, the transfer of water rights to municipalities, traffic and even trash, are now everyday obstacles farmers along the Front Range. With all of this growth and change, CAWA wants to emphasize that agriculture isn’t a relic of an older time that needs to make way for progress. These farming communities provide a lot of social, economic, aesthetic and environmental benefits that we may not be fully aware of.
CAWA is working with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and National Young Farmers to host a similar tour late September in Rocky Ford. You can learn more about us and stay informed at coagwater.org.
CAWA relies on grants and sponsorships for most of our funding. These tours wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Metro Basin Roundtable, Agfinity, Colorado Corn, Northern Water, Denver Water, Aurora Water, Pawnee Buttes Seed, the City of Longmont and the West Adams and Boulder Valley Conservation Districts.
Greg Peterson has recently been involved in water issues in Colorado after receiving a Masters in Political Economy of Resources from The Colorado School of Mines and working as a teacher before that. He has worked as a research associate at the Colorado Water Institute and is currently working with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and enjoys learning about economics, agriculture and rural Colorado.