Fracking coming here?
As the New Year is upon us it is time for us farmers to reflect on what went well this past season, what we need to change, and the challenges that we need to overcome to be successful. There is no more serious challenge for local North Fork farmers to be successful than the potential of BLM leasing 30,000 acres for oil and gas development. It is this new development that has put a whole new spin on the usual discussions of how many row feet of carrots should we grow and which varieties did best last year.
The BLM has a RMP, or Resource Management Plan, that is supposed to consider everything in a community that could be impacted from any potential activity on the BLM lands. The last time a full RMP was done by the BLM for this area was 1989. As a farmer I wanted to know what kinds of considerations were included for agriculture. Agriculture was not mentioned in the RMP. It is a typical ‘who cares about dumb farmers’ approach that any farmer is use to from society.
One would think that such an important document might have considered the vast network of ditches and canals that feed water to all of the valley farms. Not mentioned. Back in the eighties there were not as many vegetable farms but you would think they would have at least talked about the impact to forage crops such as hay or alfalfa, or the valleys ranches that rely on them. Perhaps they would have mentioned the valleys fruit growing industry, which has been around for decades. None of this was even mentioned in the 1989 RMP.
Now to be fair fracking did not really exist and certainly not like it is practiced today, but to not mention agriculture when looking at this valley even in 1989 is remiss. This is why I feel like at the very least they need to wait to lease this land until a thorough RMP is done. It should talk about the types of operations mentioned above. It would also need to focus on the fact that there are more certified organic farms per capita here than anywhere in the state. If we have to deal with toxins in our water or air it will make doing business impossible.
In the end this is really the question that is before us. What kind of valley do we want to see in the future. Do we want to see a valley were traffic consists of cows and tractors on the roads. Or do we want an industrial community where big trucks with toxic chemicals are driving down our country lanes. I do not believe that coexistence is desirable for this community. Nor do I think that coexistence is possible for an agricultural economy and an industrial oil and gas economy.
Oil and gas offers the potential for jobs (though not necessarily for county residents) and tax revenue for the county. But at what sacrifice. Agriculture is always being sacrificed for industry because agriculture does not offer as much return on the dollar. But as so many know who live here, an agrarian lifestyle is about so much more than a return on the dollar. This is the reason we need to protect and safeguard our agrarian lifestyle. There are very few valleys like this in Colorado. We have the history of agriculture, the water, the land, and the climate all in one place. It is a unique place, so I think it is fair that oil and gas be asked to find other places to do business.
The other thing not considered in the 1989 RMP is tourism. Of course what interest me the most is the agricultural tourism, agrotourism. It is a growing part of the tourism industry around here and across the nation. Agrotourism is an activity that more and more small farms look towards to help with the bottom line. Key to agrotourism besides having vital farms is a landscape of beauty and awe that will attract people to come and spend their money. If we have an industrialized and polluted county people are less likely to want to come visit. The impacts of oil and gas on tourism could literally stop this bourgeoning aspect of our economy in its tracks.
Finally the most important consideration when I decide how many carrots to grow is the value of my farmland and house. Farms take a lot of time and capital to bring to fruition. It is not as simple as making a pad and drilling. Farms in the valley whether they are generations old or a newly planted vineyard have a lot invested in their land, and water. Other places where oil and gas development have had large loses to land and home values. It would be a shame to squander all of our monetary and human capital that we have built up in this county for a short term boost to our economy. I feel that it is really important to consider agriculture in its entirety when deciding to allow this type of development into the valley or not. Agriculture is the cornerstone of this community. Let us keep it that way forever.