The second regional Colorado STAR event took place on Friday, Feb. 24, in Rocky Ford, Colorado. Partners in the event included Acres U.S.A., the Colorado Department of Agriculture and the West Otero Timpas Conservation District.
The event kicked off with a welcome introduction from Lydia Lazar, Executive Director of Acres U.S.A., and Cindy Lair, with the Colorado Department of Agriculture. The first presentation was given by Kevin Rein, State Engineer of the Colorado Department of Water Resources. Rein focused on explaining how water supply conditions are forecast and how water allocation is administered.
Following Rein were presentations from Meagan Schipanski, Associate Professor of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University and Erik Wardle, Program Manager of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University. Schipanski discussed lessons learned from managing soil and crop systems with limited to no irrigation across the Eastern Plains, while Wardle followed up with side-by-side comparisons of nearby STAR research fields and further scientific data around soil and crop management techniques.
Nick Colglazier, Executive Director of Colorado Corn Grower’s Association, presented a practitioner’s perspective on the use of cover crops vs. bare ground to encourage water infiltration.
Colglazier, Schipanski and Wardle then participated in an involved question-and-answer session with event attendees.
Following a break, CDPHE specialist Kenan Diker moderated a panel discussion on “The Nexus Between Soil Health and Water Quality and Quantity” with local producer Phillip Chavez and Tom Seaba, Director of Water Utilities and Motor Pool for the City of La Junta. The three discussed tactics and management of soil health techniques, building soil organic matter and achieving and maintaining water quality.
“Every time I put a shovel in the ground, I like to see earthworms coming up,” Chavez said about his farmland. “I like to see our soil healthy.”
A panel of local producers closed out the event – Riley May, Dereck White Heckman and Erik Tucker joined Chavez at the front of the room. The four discussed their experiences with learning about and building soil health on their properties, with Chavez sharing photos of his operation. Each producer answered questions from the audience, including giving advice to others just starting to learn more about soil health practices.
“I was going crazy in a dust storm, watching my farm blow away, and it bothered me,” said Tucker, of his turning point toward soil health-centric agriculture. “It bothered me enough to find answers.” He encouraged others in a similar position to seek out education and not become discouraged too quickly.
Learn more about the Colorado STAR program here, and download free soil health primers here. Sign up here for Acres U.S.A. email newsletters to get updates on upcoming Colorado STAR events and other useful educational resources.