Recently, The Colorado Sun reported on an issue that is close to the heart of every farmer in our state: declining numbers of pollinating insects like bees that are important to the health of our environment.
Two recent studies from University of Colorado, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory researchers — both covered by the Sun — make one thing clear: Climate change is increasingly responsible for declining insect populations. This includes bees and other native pollinators that are critical to growing crops and ensuring our state has an abundant supply of healthy and affordable food. I know firsthand the importance of pollinators — our own farming relies heavily on their help, and we rent dozens of hives every year to improve our productivity.
Pollinator health is just one of the reasons why Colorado farmers use climate-smart practices to reduce carbon emissions and our impact on the environment. Keeping a healthy environment for pollinators to thrive helps farmers grow healthy and abundant food.
Many well-intentioned activists misunderstand the science of farming, blaming agriculture practices like pesticides for declining bee populations and trying to restrict the climate-smart tools we use to lessen our own impact. Climate change has a greater role in the decline of insect populations, not farming or pesticides. The next step for Colorado should be embracing technologies and techniques that help us slow and reverse climate change, rather than yielding to anti-science voices that would take away pesticide tools.
The fact is pesticides play a role in making agriculture friendlier for the climate. For example, our farms practice “no till” agriculture, which avoids tilling the land for weed control and releasing a large amount of carbon into the atmosphere. No-till farming also conserves a significant amount of water, as tillage causes soil to lose its moisture to evaporation and dry out across acres of farmland. Another climate-smart practice includes using cover crops to improve soil health and mitigate water shortage. These climate-friendly practices are only possible, however, because of our responsible use of herbicides to control weeds and seed treatments that safeguard crops when they are most vulnerable to pests and diseases.
My father was a Colorado farmer, and I have carried on that tradition for the past 35 years in Boulder County and Western Colorado. Sustainable practices are essential to my farm’s health and longevity. How I take care of my land today impacts my success 10 years from now. If we screw up today, there is no quick fix tomorrow.
That is why farmers are so concerned about climate change — we want to do what we can to ensure our farms remain viable for generations to come. And we’re not just talking about growing food. While my own farms grow small grains like wheat and barley and raise cows, we also operate a corn maze and pumpkin patch that generate tourist activity and recreation in the fall.
Pesticides also help farmers avoid crop losses and maximize our yields per acre without using more land or letting invasive species do irreversible harm to our land. Our pumpkin patch uses pesticides to control diseases such as powdery mildew and viruses caused by insects. I take care to never spray where pollinators land by applying products before flowers bloom or in the late evening when blooms are closed and there is little pollinator activity.
We take these technologies seriously — particularly pesticides. It is important to understand that farmers have every reason to use pesticides responsibly, and we take great care to use the safest and lowest-impact practices when we do. Operations like ours aren’t huge, and pesticides are expensive. I monitor my crops for pests and weeds and use these tools only when necessary to protect my land. The application methods and practices I use come from a significant amount of training — becoming a licensed applicator required me to review a 100-page manual and pass a comprehensive hourslong exam. And this only built on what I know from my decades in agriculture. As a child, responsible pesticide use was ingrained in me early as part of maintaining a healthy land. Like I said, farmers know that our actions today affect what happens years from now. We know how to care for our land sustainably for the long term.
I have a 25 year-old nephew who works on our farm. I want our land to be there for him in 20 years and beyond. Farmers all across our state feel the same way. We’re ready to help Colorado reduce emissions and protect our pollinators. The state should recognize our expertise and the decades of experience and science behind what we do. It’s critical that state leaders offer us a seat at the table to provide our perspectives before decisions are made and incorporate our expertise when they consider agricultural regulations designed to promote and protect climate-smart agriculture.
Scott Miller is a Colorado farmer and member of Farmers Alliance for Integrated Resources (FAIR). He lives in Broomfield and has been farming for 35 years.
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