Community Agriculture Alliance: Ranchers contribute to economy in many ways
July 27, 2017
I was recently asked how much I estimate ranch sales bring to our local economy. Thinking about the ripple effect of that — from the smaller ranch owners, who come in and do clean up, remodels, contribute to various non-profits, etc., to the larger ranch owners, who build new buildings, construct fences, develop springs, hire ranch managers, etc. — I began to think of my own ranching operation and those of the other local cattlewomen. Not only do our ranching businesses — large or small, new or established — contribute to the local economy, they contribute to some of the intangibles that are difficult to value.
Perhaps one of the most obvious benefits local ranchers bring to our area is the protection of open space from intense development. By default, ranchers need large sections of land to support haying and grazing operations. Though land and animal management procedures can vary from ranch to ranch, nearly all are based on a common foundation — the sustainability of the land to support the animals through long periods of time.
Most ranchers incorporate ultra-long-term practices to ensure their businesses can survive during the extremes, such as drought and extended winter feeding. If you're looking for a lesson in sustainability, look to a local rancher. The conversion of grass to protein on our local ranches requires a lot of open space, and it translates to some of the most pleasing scenery in the state. These scenic vistas attract visitors and new residents, directly contributing to our local economy. Can I pin a number on that? Not really, but it is certainly valuable.
Things such as tires, grain, fuel and veterinary supplies come to mind when I think of the tangible contributions ranchers make to the local economy. When you add up all the tires on a ranch, it can be a whopping number: There are 18 on the semi used to haul cattle to summer pasture, four odd-sized tires on the swather that cuts the hay, four on each of many tractors, plus multiple ranch trucks and numerous four-wheelers and ATV's. While most ranchers can do mechanical work to varying degrees, when a breakdown happens, time is money, so we gladly contribute heavily to the local mechanics.
Feed and vet supplies on a large scale are a necessity on a ranch; annual feed and supplement costs are among the largest expenses a rancher has. Thoough recent trends show locals purchasing their products a little closer to home, most of the products produced on area ranches are purchased by non-local buyers. Regardless of the end-user, that money stays in the local economy, because the majority of a rancher's expenditures are very local.
It would be difficult for me to quantify how the area ranching operations affect the local economy; that's the purview of our local economist, Scott Ford. But it is easy to see the contribution local ranchers and ranches make to our economy is positive, the very least being the use and resulting preservation of landscapes we cherish here in northwest Colorado.
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Christy Belton is a member of the Routt County Cattlewomen. She is a ranch broker with Ranch Marketing Associates and also helps her husband raise cattle and hay in the Elk River Valley.