Colorado ranchers endangered


The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the number of farms and ranches in the U.S. has dropped to the lowest levels since before the Civil War.

In 1880, the farm and ranch population was 22 million. Today, there are less than five million farmers and ranchers. Today, 27.3 percent of Americans live in rural areas and 1.9 percent of the population lives on farms and ranches.

Moffat County Extension agent and rancher Ann Franklin said the dropping number of people in the agriculture lifestyle is a disturbing trend.

"There are too many other opportunities that pay off right away," said Franklin. "Ranching is more of a way of life than a profitable business."

Colorado is home to more than 28,000 farms and ranches.

In 1999 the number of farms and ranches in the U.S. was 2.19 million. The highest number of farms and ranches ever recorded was in 1935, when numbers reached 6.8 million.

Currently in Colorado, 5.45 percent of farm operators consider farming to be their principal occupation.

The average farm size is down from 1,248 acres in 1987 to 1,154 in 1999.

Franklin said she sees prices driving people out of the business and that the normal citizen is unaware of agriculture.

"People in the U.S. are not as connected with ag, so I don't think they understand where their food comes from," said Franklin.

The average age of the Colorado farmer and rancher is 53.8 years.

Colorado produces $2.3 billion in cattle and calves. Wheat in Colorado accounts for $223 million. Sheep and lambs account for $144 million.

"People don't realize how many jobs come from agriculture," said Franklin. "Agriculture is just about the only business that doesn't set its own prices."

Franklin believes there is hope in the future for the way of life that is slowly being abandoned. Ranchers and farmers will have to change the way they conduct their business for it to survive.

"As a rancher or a farmer, you work 16 hours a day seven days a week with little reward," said Franklin. "U.S. ranchers and farmers supply the safest food supply in the world. There is definitely a place in agriculture for people who are willing to try something different. The key for the future of the agriculture business will be marketing and getting farmers and ranchers to team up."

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