Our Agriculture Community

Gunnison County got its’ start in agriculture in the early 1870’s when a few cowboys wandered into the Gunnison area with a small number of cattle. They realized the potential with the great grasslands and water here and before long they were raising a small herd or two. Soon the federal government came through here with a large band of Ute Indians bound for reservation land south of here, but the Ute’s refused to go any further so they stopped in Saguache Park south of Gunnison and there they stayed.

With the buffalo gone they needed meat so the few cowboys who were here began to bring in large numbers of cattle to satisfy the need, eventually amassing a large herd. The cattle industry and its’ contribution to the county were here to stay.

The economy of Gunnison County was led until the 1980’s by the ranching industry and remains a strong contributor to our local economic picture.  Although many smaller ranches have gone by the wayside, ranching keeps us going as a steady player in slow economic times because it buys and sells cattle on the commodity market and commodities tend to be lucrative in a down economy.

However, in more recent times the economic benefit from ranching is much more than the direct monetary contribution it makes to western communities like ours. Ranching provides some of the last privately owned open space in the west. Without ranching we lose our beautiful green meadows and rich riparian areas and without them the wildlife and our aesthetics wane. Nearly 80% of the visitors to agriculture communities in western Colorado say the open space and the ranches are why they come to vacation there and those visitors are a major economic driver to our communities.

Along with the incredible open space ranching provides, the industry ensures our water stays in the valley. The traditional Colorado water law dictates through “water rights” who has use of the water and agriculture has traditionally dominated. Without ranching in the Gunnison Valley our water will be sold and exported to the urban areas to satisfy their wasteful needs. There is pending legislation bound for the ballot this fall that seeks to restructure water law, making it easier for others to get western slope water, potentially draining our valleys and taking our economy with it. Frankly the economy of the state will suffer as well because of the loss of tourism and that includes skiing where manmade snow is the only thing that keeps ski areas open in some years.

We are seeing smaller agriculture business begin to market local produce, meat and poultry in several areas of Gunnison County and I feel we should support them right along with ranching. This country has lost far too much agriculture land to sprawling development and we are all the losers. Agriculture is our food supply whether we are vegetarian or carnivorous and we have to ensure agriculture stays in this valley. As agriculture has diminished in importance on the local levels, big ag has gotten more and more of a hold on the markets pulling money from small towns across the country, something I do not want to see happen to us.

If Gunnison County loses agriculture we lose so much more for everything hinges on it. Without the ranching we will not have the water; without the water we will not have the lush open spaces; without the open space we will not have the wildlife; the list goes on. If we lose the water associated with ranching many or our domestic rural wells will go dry as well because the aquifers will not be replenished. We will lose.