LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg met on Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Robert Bonnie to discuss the alignment between the state and federal agencies on climate resilience and stewardship of natural and working lands. They were joined by Colorado Farm Service Agency (FSA) state director Kent Peppler and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Clint Evans and others leading climate work for the federal government.
“I was honored to meet with Under Secretary Bonnie to discuss how our agencies align on the overall vision of tackling the effects of climate change,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg. “Colorado is one of the leaders in promoting farmer-led conservation efforts through our close collaboration with local and federal partners, including Colorado Conservation Districts, farmers, ranchers and the USDA. Our STAR and STAR+ conservation programs can be a model for the rest of the arid West on how improving soil health can sequester carbon, lead to more productive land and greater profitability for our ag producers.”
The Under Secretary and Commissioner discussed state and federal programs that promote voluntary, incentive-based adoption of climate smart agricultural practices across Colorado and other parts of the West.
“Through all of our working lands conservation and climate-smart agriculture efforts our successes are dependent on partnerships with producers and federal and state agencies like the Colorado Department of Agriculture,” said USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie. “The Commissioner is right. Colorado is indeed a leader and welcome partner in climate-smart agriculture. In fact, landowners in Colorado just recently enrolled more than 640,000 acres in our Grasslands Conservation Program – the most of any state. I think this voluntary program participation illustrates that Colorado producers understand this program and others like it are a great way to promote plant and animal biodiversity and conserve private working lands.”
Colorado’s soil health program, which includes the STAR and STAR+ tracks, works in partnership with Colorado’s Conservation Districts and other grower groups to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers across the state. The funding for financial assistance comes from various sources, including grants, foundation investments, and government sources, with the most significant funding to-date coming from state stimulus ($2 million) and the NRCS ($2.4 million).
In 2022, CDA is working with 133 farmers and ranchers, 17 conservation districts, and three eligible organizations as they implement new or different soil health practices on their land and consider adopting them across their operation. Participants gain familiarity and expertise with new practices and an increased understanding of the environmental and economic outcomes associated with them. The STAR program has a robust monitoring and data collection framework for soil health-related outcomes including reducing the agricultural carbon footprint, water conservation and profitability. Additionally, the STAR seal opens up new market possibilities for producers, by recruiting supply chain partners who recognize the importance of regenerative agricultural practices and who invest in Colorado producers tackling climate change. It also allows consumers to make choices based on the producers’ commitment to addressing climate change through thoughtful, intentional action.
STAR+ provides significant capacity support, equipment grants, training and other support to conservation districts and eligible entities so they can provide technical assistance to landowners where and when they need it. These partners provide the trusted local support and knowledge to ensure producer success.
The USDA’s Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is part of the CRP program, a federally funded voluntary program that contracts with agricultural producers so that environmentally sensitive agricultural land is not farmed or ranched, but instead used for conservation benefits. FSA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. Contract duration is 10 or 15 years. Grassland CRP helps landowners and operators protect grassland, including rangeland, and pastureland, and certain other lands, while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. The program emphasizes support for grazing operations, plant and animal biodiversity, and grasslands that support shrubs and forbs under the greatest threat of conversion.