“You depend on the land for your living and depend on the land for your existence.”
Loren Forbes, co-owner of Summerfield Ranch, south of Hamilton
Colorado families who have owned and operated their farms or ranches for at least 100 years took center stage Friday at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo.
The 25th annual Centennial Farms Celebration, which took place Friday, recognized 18 families.
In honor of the event, Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed the day as “Colorado Centennial Farms Day.”
“These long-standing farm and ranch families play an integral role in preserving important aspects of Colorado’s history,” Ed Nichols, Colorado Historical Society president and chief executive officer, said in a news release. “In spite of the pressures of growth, changes in farming methods, drought and economic conditions, these families have maintained their way of life while many historic barns and other agricultural sites around the nation are disappearing at an alarming rate.”
Given the nature of the agricultural industry, keeping a ranch in the family is no easy feat. Still, as members of longtime ranching families in Moffat County can tell you, it is rewarding.
Death and taxes
Look at the value of a rancher or farmer’s assets — land, equipment, improvements — and it may look like he or she isn’t hurting financially.
But, they often have little cash on hand, said Shawn Martini, Colorado Farm Bureau spokesman. And that’s the problem.
Estate taxes are “the No. 1 thing that causes farms and ranches to have to change hands,” he said.
When a farmer or rancher dies, his or her family often doesn’t have the money to pay for the taxes on the property, so they often have no choice but to sell.
There are other economic challenges, too.
Unlike other businesses, farmers and ranchers deal in commodities, and they can’t set the price for their products. So when the cost of doing business gets more expensive, ranchers or farmers can’t pass their expenses onto consumers.
If you’re an agriculturalist, those added costs “come directly out of your bottom line,” Martini said.
On top of that, there are regulatory changes from agencies such as the United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. And, somewhere down the line, those changes hit a rancher or farmer’s pocketbook, too, he said.
Setting down roots
Still, some ranches have survived. The Kline Ranch, tucked away on Moffat County Road 31 east of Cedar Mountain, is one of them.
Ernest S. Kline, a teacher and circuit-riding preacher originally from Wilkes-Barre, Penn., homesteaded the property in 1910, said LuAnn Kline, wife of Ernest’s grandson, Randy.
Today, the ranch solely produces hay — 318 tons this year, to be exact — but it has been home to a wide array of livestock and crops in the past.
It once supported dairy cattle, and the cream went to what was then called the Yampa Valley Creamery. LuAnn still has one of the cream cans, although she’s put her own touch on it by painting it pink and putting flowers on it.
At various times, apples, corn, beans, potatoes, wheat and barley once grew on the Klines’ acreage. It once was home to hogs, sheep cattle, quarter horses and as many as 6,000 chickens.
For a time, the ranch also raised chinchillas — although they weren’t LuAnn’s favorite part of the ranch.
“I hated those little critters,” LuAnn said.
The ranch also boasts a handful of buildings that are at least 50 years old, including a granary dating back to the late 1920s or early 1930s that Ernest Kline built using stones cleared from the fields.
Since it began, the ranch has been home to seven generations, including three who live on the ranch now: LuAnn and her husband, Randy; Randy’s father, Earl, 88; and the couple’s son, Brett, and his wife, Meagan.
What’s the future of the Kline Ranch?
It’s hard to say, LuAnn said.
Although Randy has kept cattle in the past, his primary occupation now is working at the Craig Station power plant.
“He couldn’t make a living at ranching,” LuAnn said. She added, “My son has chosen not to ranch right now.”
However, the ranch provides more than what can be sold at market or captured in a photograph. It’s offered something else, something intangible but enduring, to the family who calls it home.
Being grounded in one place allows LuAnn to forge long-term relationships —a rarity in a society where few people stay in one place, LuAnn said.
“Having roots in a place has a very stabilizing effect on your family,” she said.
‘Dealing with nature’
Leave the Kline Ranch and head south, past Hamilton, and you’ll find the Summerfield Ranch, owned by Loren Forbes and his wife, Debra.
Technically, the ranch on Morapos Creek isn’t the original homestead site, but it’s only a few miles away from where Loren’s great-grandparents, Jenny and Milton Taylor, began ranching in 1911.
The Taylors raised cattle, sheep, chicken and pigs, and they fed the animals with the grain and hay they grew.
Since then, diesel machines replaced horse-drawn equipment.
“Modern machinery makes it a lot easier for us, but they probably did as good a job as we do,” he said.
But, in other ways, the ranch hasn’t changed much. Loren, a fourth-generation rancher, irrigates with the same ditches and water rights that his great-grandparents used. The house he and his family live in now probably dates back to 1918, he said.
For Loren, ranching isn’t just what he does; it’s part of who he is.
“It’s the lifestyle, and living and dealing with nature — things you can’t control,” he said. “You depend on the land for your living and depend on the land for your existence.”
It’s not easy to predict what the future holds for the Summerfield Ranch and other family operations that have survived a century or more.
“It’s so cyclical, it’s very difficult to say,” Martini said.
Commodity prices have been higher than normal recently, and they’re on track to stay the same or keep rising, he added. But, on the other hand, revenue is pending regulatory changes and higher fuel prices.
However, there may be hope.
For the state and the nation, the agricultural outlook is “more positive than negative,” Martini said.
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