The Environmental Protection Agency has released a final version of updated rules intended to keep farmworkers from being poisoned by pesticides. The previous "worker protection standard" for farms has been in effect since 1992.

Montrose County in western Colorado is an agricultural community. Everything from apples to zucchini is grown there. However, not everyone knows what’s in season, how they can access it or how to prepare it.

The Local Farmacy Rx program is trying to change that. Through it low-income families learn how to eat healthy locally. 

Colorado's South Platte River basin is a powerhouse for crops and cattle. Massive reservoirs quench the region's thirst, with farm fields generally first in line. Wildlife? It's often last.

A small win-win though is giving waterfowl a little more room at the watering hole. It's a program that creates warm winter ponds for migrating ducks — then gives the water back, in time for summer crops.

Colorado's ban on collecting rain from residential rooftops has been a contentious topic at the statehouse, and a proposed bill for 2016 means it will likely be debated once again.

"Colorado is the only western state where rain barrels are illegal," said Drew Beckwith, a water policy manager with the nonprofit Western Resource Advocates.

"Every other western state that has our water laws has them legal, and it has not caused the Earth to come crashing to a halt."

So why is there so much controversy over collecting rainwater? The sticking point is whether doing so impacts downstream water users.

  • Two shootings in Mesa County
  • Sharing Ministries Food Bank in Montrose raises over $1 million for new facility
  • Telluride considers tiny homes to address housing shortage
  • Slaughterhouses remain resilient to automation

On a research farm north of Fort Collins, Colorado, in a secret location, buried in the middle of a corn field, grows Colorado’s newest and most buzzed about commodity crop -- industrial hemp.

It’s almost harvest time at the farm, and soon researchers at Colorado State University will be adding bushels of hemp next to the usual, familiar piles of corn, wheat and oats.

Hemp is a member of the cannabis family, but it’s lacking in psychoactive properties. Instead, it’s grown more for fiber and oil. But decades of prohibition have left academia lacking in published scientific research about the plant’s very basic properties.

CSU Rogers Mesa Agricultural Research Center
Linda Rubick

A group of Delta County stakeholders wants to breathe new life into a shuttered agricultural research center. The Colorado State University facility sits on 83 acres outside of Hotchkiss on Rogers Mesa. 

The property has a residence, classrooms, laboratory space, offices, cold storage, a greenhouse and equipment storage sheds. 

CSU used the site to conduct research on fruit trees, but now the classrooms and laboratories sit empty.

  • Feds pledge $211M to protect sage grouse
  • Thousands without irrigation water in Mesa County due to Issues with 38 Road repairs
  • Delta County hopes to see Rogers Mesa agricultural site comeback to life
  • Interview with incoming State Supreme Court Justice Robert Gabriel

The Environmental Protection Agency was investigating an old mine near Silverton, Colo., earlier this month, when it accidentally released 3 million gallons of toxic waste water into the Animas River.

Initially the agency downplayed the incident and provided little information. So Navajo President Russell Begaye traveled to the source of the toxic spill and posted a video of it on Facebook.

In the video, he stands in front of the still-leaking mine.

Small Potatoes Farm
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

The state is offering financial assistance to Colorado farmers looking to move away from using flood irrigation. 

  • Montrose Memorial Hospital takes over local clinic creating women’s health center
  • State program helps Colorado farmers finance small hydropower projects
  • Montrose to disable downtown traffic light
  • Study finds connection fees lead to water savings

If you want to hang out with a bunch of bees, you'd better be prepared for a little pain.

Mario Padilla, a honeybee researcher at Penn State University, can usually tell when his hives are getting agitated. But he's already been stung three times today. And he's about to get it again.

"I got stung!" Padilla says, half-laughing. "And that was a sting that was not even an invited sting. That was an I-was-minding-my-own-business sting."

Urbanization of Agricultural Land

Aug 6, 2015

An additional 2.5 million people are expected to move to Colorado by 2040, the vast majority of them headed for the Front Range.   As part of Connecting the Drops, our state-wide water series, Maeve Conran looks at the impact on Colorado as its landscape changes from crops to houses.

The traffic on a stretch of I-25 north of Denver is the soundtrack to the changes that farmer Kent Peppler has seen happening in Weld County. 

  • Laws Sponsored By Western Slope Legislators Go Into Effect
  • ‘Substandard Care’ Likely Contributed To Grand Junction Veteran’s Death, Report Finds
  • Colorado Health Officials React To Obama’s Clean Power Plan
  • Connecting The Drops: Urbanization of Agricultural Land

Wanted: More Bulls With No Horns

Aug 3, 2015

The next time you're in the dairy aisle at the supermarket, take a moment to imagine the animals that produced all that milk. Do these cows have horns? Chances are they do, or at least they did at birth.

About 85 percent of milk sold in the United States comes from Holstein cows born with horns. But it's standard practice for farms to remove horns from cattle to prevent injuries to workers, veterinarians and other cows in the herd.

Farmers who grow marijuana for Colorado's legal market are running into problems as they try to control mildew and pests. Because of the plant's illegal status at the federal level, a main source of agricultural guidance isn't available to pot farmers.

Attempts to regulate marijuana production often hit another problem, as the plant's wide range of uses sets it apart from many traditional food crops.

There's a renaissance in local and regional food, and it's not just farmers markets in urban areas that are driving it.

The marijuana industry has a pesticide problem. Many commercial cannabis growers use chemicals to control bugs and mold. But the plant's legal status is unresolved.

The grow room at Medical MJ Supply in Fort Collins, Colo., has all the trappings of a modern marijuana cultivation facility: glowing yellow lights, plastic irrigation tubes, and rows of knee-high cannabis plants.

"We're seeing a crop that's probably in it third or fourth week," says Nick Dice, the owner.

What if farmers, instead of picking up some agricultural chemicals at their local dealer, picked up a load of agricultural microbes instead?

It's something to contemplate, because some big names in the pesticide business — like Bayer and Monsanto — are putting money behind attempts to turn soil microbes into tools that farmers can use to give their crops a boost.

It's a symptom of the soaring interest in the ways microbes affect all of life. In our bodies, they help fight off disease. In the soil, they help deliver nutrients to plants, and perhaps much more.

For some people, too much salt is bad for health. Too much salt is also bad for growing most crops.

Salty soil is a common problem for farmers in the arid West and it's gotten worse because of the ongoing drought. Water is necessary to flush salts out; without it, salt builds up over time.

In New Mexico, one crop that's suffering is the state's beloved chile pepper.

Rudy Mussi is not the California farmer you've been hearing about. He is not fallowing all his fields or ripping up his orchards due to a lack irrigation water.

For Mussi and most of his neighbors in the bucolic Sacramento Delta, the water is still flowing reliably from the pumps and into the canals lining the fields.

"If you had to pick a place where you would say, 'Okay, where should I stick my farm?' You'd come to the Delta," he says.

It’s May in Rocky Mountain National Park, but on a mountainside 10,829 feet above sea level, snow is falling. It’s pelting Jim Cheatham, a biologist with the National Park Service. Shrugging off the cold, Cheatham seizes a teachable moment. This snow, he said, holds more than just water.

“Chances are it’s carrying the excess nitrogen we’re talking about,” mused Cheatham.

For the past eight years, the biologist has spent most of his time thinking about how nitrogen pollution is changing the park’s forests, wildflowers, and alpine lakes. He’s also been looking for a way to stop it.

Sheep ranchers, feedlot owners, and processors in states like Colorado, Nebraska and Illinois are banking on America becoming a more diverse place.

Specifically, they want American Muslims to buy more of their lamb.

iSeeChange: Frozen Fruit

May 2, 2015
Jake Ryan / KVNF

A hard freeze in April damaged a wide range of fruit crops on the Western Slope of Colorado.

A bill to expand farm-to-school programs in Colorado initially cleared the state House Tuesday, but it still faces objections from some lawmakers who call it unnecessary.

House Bill 1088 [.pdf] would set up grants to help farms and ranches meet federal safety standards to they could sell their locally produced food to schools.

"This program boosts our economy, it creates jobs, and we have schools right now who want to buy more local food from our farmers and the supply chain does not exist," said bill sponsor Representative Faith Winter (D-Westminster).

Produce, Vegetables, Thistle Whistle
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

Colorado State University is surveying farmers and travelers for a study on agritourism.

Earlier this year, nearly 800 farmers across Colorado received a questionnaire from CSU’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

The survey asks producers about agritourism. The university wants to know what portion of their business comes from the industry, how they attract tourists and what challenges they face.

The study is partnership between CSU and the University of California, Davis.

California is parched. Wells are running dry. Vegetable fields have been left fallow and lawns are dying. There must be some villain behind all this, right?

Of course there is. In fact, have your pick. As a public service, The Salt is bringing you several of the leading candidates. They have been nominated by widely respected national publications and interest groups.

There's just one problem: Not all of these shady characters live up to their nefarious job description. Let us explain.

1. Almonds

wine, beer, juice
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

In 2013, tourists spent more than $17 billion dollars in Colorado. And, agritourism is one industry that’s drawing visitors to the state.

In Paonia last Wednesday, local beverage producers and farmers discussed what they could do to increase agritouirsm in Delta County. 

About 30 people are at the Hive Paonia. There are vineyard owners, cider producers and farmers.

They are discussing challenges they face when it comes to attracting visits to the area. 

Pesticide-free? Nurtured with organic fertilizer? No antibiotics?

Ask any shopper, and you're bound to find mixed answers for what an organic label means.

Now, an association is trying to draw funding from something called a "checkoff" to pay for consumer advertising and research. For a checkoff to work, each farmer pays a small amount. For example, a penny-per-bushel of wheat or a dollar per cow would generate millions of dollars in pooled funding that could pay for splashy ad campaigns.

The water outlook in drought-racked California just got a lot worse: Snowpack levels across the entire Sierra Nevada are now the lowest in recorded history — just 6 percent of the long-term average. That shatters the previous low record on this date of 25 percent, set in 1977 and again last year.