Ag employment stagnant


— As agriculture employment and income in Colorado show an increase in the most recent Census of Agriculture report, Routt County numbers show flat growth.

Between 1992 and 1997, agriculture employment in Colorado rose nearly 10 percent and agriculture income was up almost 15 percent in the census report conducted by the Colorado State University Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

That ranks Colorado 17th in the total value of agriculture products sold at $15.9 billion a year, including $985 million in exports, and fourth in cattle and calf sales.

Those numbers reflect all agricultural products in Colorado, Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said. In Routt County, where the primary agricultural product is beef, general numbers are different.

In 1992, Routt County reported $26.8 million for agricultural products, while in 1997, the amount dropped to $22.8 million.

"That's really a reflection of the cattle-market cycle," Mucklow said. "If you look at the numbers today, it probably would be back up."

The cycle is on a seven-year swing. The trough of the cycle was nearly two years ago and now it's coming back up.

Though the cycle is going up, agricultural is not affected by the resort economy boom in Routt County, Mucklow said.

In the same census report, agriculture in 1987 was 4.24 percent of the economy in Routt County. In 1992, that dropped to 2.4 percent, and in 1997 it went down to .8 percent of the economy.

Though the beef cycle has something to do with that, Mucklow said agriculture will not grow with the economy in Routt County.

"What's happening is that you have it stagnating, then you have the rest of the county booming," he said. "You can go back 20 years and not see any gain (in agriculture) in Routt County."

Meanwhile, a booming economy pushes property values up, making it difficult economically to keep land in agriculture, said Ellen Stein, executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance.

In Routt County, many ranchers who want to stay in agriculture settle on breaking even rather than selling their million-dollar lands, she said.

"But that's not what agriculture is all about," Stein said.

Many people are staying in it because of quality of life and tradition, she said.

The booming market also helps people stay in agriculture, too, Mucklow said. Most agriculture producers in Routt County have second incomes off the ranch.

"That's the good thing about a resort economy, that employment is here," he said. "It's a double-edged sword."

In places in the country where there isn't another economy to draw from, agriculture producers who can't make it solely with ranching are forced to move off the land and into other professions.

"In a way, it sustains agriculture," he said.

The future of agriculture in Routt County isn't bleak. The biggest change is that there won't be many younger ranchers who own land because they can't afford to buy it, Mucklow said.

Stein said that's not a dire situation. Many businesses exist in buildings that are owned by someone else.

"It's a pretty common phenomenon," she said.

Interestingly enough, that's what the Community Agriculture Alliance is preparing for. One of its first functions to sustain agriculture in Routt County is to try to provide new landowners who want to keep their land in agriculture, with people who want to ranch and know how to do it but can't afford to buy land.


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