SAN LUIS VALLEY—Emerging Denver food hubs can potentially have a positive impact on the San Luis Valley’s economy. This is the message brought by Dr. Becca Jablonski, professor of agricultural economics from Colorado State University to the 2018 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference.
Jablonski also acts as an extension economist. This position allows her the opportunity to travel around the state to study new market development opportunities. She focuses on the profitability of these markets for farmers and ranchers.
Jablonski spoke about the Colorado Blueprint of Food and Agriculture project and the next steps in the process. “We hope to see actual things come out of this. Hopefully, it is not just research that sits on the shelf,” she said. Things that are exciting for the San Luis Valley and may be feasible for economic growth were what she hoped to share during her presentation.
Colorado is really becoming a beer state, Jablonski pointed out. “I thought it was interesting to see in Alamosa now there are two breweries right next to each other,” she said. The craft beer industry is a thriving Colorado economic opportunity.
She also presented results from the study about public perception. Respondents were asked to rank what agricultural commodities they thought were the most important in the state. The study also revealed that Coloradans still believe agricultural is very important to the quality of life in the state. Citizens also strongly believe that water rights and use are very important. However, a key takeaway is that much of the state’s public is not being directly exposed to agriculture and may not quite understand how truly valuable it really is.
“There also is a trend towards local food markets. Local is defined almost entirely in stating the entire state of Colorado. I think that has important implications for the San Luis Valley,” said Jablonski.
Jablonski said that much of the agricultural blueprint comes from town halls that were held across the state in 2017. One such town hall was part of the 2017 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and was held at the Vali 3 Theater. Information from participants of the Monte Vista town hall has contributed to the blueprint plans.
She offered a quick snapshot of ideas that arose. One was to better utilize infrastructure such as possibly investing in USDA inspected processing plants. Another idea comes from Idaho. Jablonski stated that a business there gives customers the opportunity to choose which variety of potato they would like the fries made out of. Since Colorado is also a potato state she said that would be a good opportunity to educate customers on the industry.
The National Western Center in Denver is being redeveloped. Jablonski said this offered an opportunity to possibly have a public market. “We are looking into if producers would benefit from a facility. It would be a good opportunity to have products that are Colorado Proud and Colorado grown,” she said.
An important component to the agricultural economy is getting youth involved in the workforce. “We heard at every single town hall the importance of 4-H and FFA. There’s a really cool opportunity here to get students exposed to agriculture. We also learned that technology is what gets youth to lighten up about agriculture. We know that ag is about technology so we have to think of ways to use that and get our youth excited.”
Jablonski shared that the study shows that Coloradans have a lot of pride in their state. It is also a well-known state according to the data. Many Colorado associated brands are known throughout the United States. “There’s real opportunity here to continue to promote.”
In relation to Colorado being well-known, regional promotional opportunities are presenting themselves. Jablonski said she had heard the annual potato festival is growing every year. “More can probably be done with that and help expand agrotourism. Keep growing these kinds of things and making sure that these are real destinations for people,” she said.
Jablonski concluded with a connection to Denver that should have a good outcome for the San Luis Valley. “Denver has been implementing food policies...these include goals like a 59 percent increase in the Denver food economy, $100 million in new capital for Denver food businesses and having 25 percent of public institutions food purchases coming from Colorado. I think it’s pretty easy to see that this can impact and influence producers...CSU is interested in focusing on how these Denver food policies can positively influence farmers and ranchers. We want to spend the next couple of years to really find out what the opportunities are. We want to make sure that these Denver food policies are positively impacting, not just Denver, but the whole state of Colorado.”