It’s a new season here in Gunnison. The new Western students are getting moved in, the ranchers are getting their hay put up, and I heard that we got some snow in the high country! This weather just makes me want to curl up in a hoodie and drink a latte.
As we welcome in a new season, I think its important to remember how essential agriculture is to Colorado, but especially to Gunnison.
Approximately 587 million acres of rangeland, grassland and pasture are primarily used for livestock grazing in the United States. Most of these acres cannot be used for any other type of agriculture or crop production, which allows ranchers to more than double the area of land that can be used for food production. Here in Colorado, The Bureau of Land Management allows livestock grazing on 7.8 million acres. The National Forest Service has 2.6 million acres of grazing just on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests alone. Plus, we must consider the millions of acres of private land being utilized for grazing. In Gunnison County alone there is 200,000 acres in animal agriculture! 50,000 of those acres have been permanently conserved with the Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy. All of these grazed lands are what makes Gunnison unique. Without ranching and grazing we would have no tourism.
Cattle and the associated economy also have a huge economic impact in the Gunnison Valley. Gunnison ranchers produce more than 3 million pounds of beef a year, with an economic impact of $46 million. More than 17,500 cows and calves live in Gunnison County, and the local ranchers sell more than $13 million dollars in agriculture products every year! Gunnison agriculture accounted for 3% of the labor force in the valley in 2003. In 2018, Colorado agriculture generated $7.1 billion in cash receipts – with the majority of that being cows and calves, dairy products, and corn. $2 billion worth of those products are exported to Canada, Mexico, Japan, Korea, and China. Agriculture contributes more than 190,000 jobs to the Colorado economy.
Economic multipliers are one way to measure an industry’s impact on an economy – and a higher multiplier implies a greater impact on the local economy versus a smaller multiplier. Agriculture has the highest local multiplier. Ranchers in Gunnison have a 1.33 multiplier, which means that for every dollar of direct agriculture sales outside of Gunnison County, an additional $0.33 is generated in the county due to indirect and direct effects.
If you’ve plodded through all these numbers and are still with me, let’s take a moment to reflect on the importance of ranching in this valley. Ranching is important from an economic standpoint, but maybe even more so of an importance to keep our valley healthy and beautiful – and keep these visitors coming here.