Earlier this year, our family ranch was awarded the Colorado Leopold Conservation Award, which recognizes agricultural landowners actively committed to a land ethic.
This was a crowning achievement for Beatty Canyon Ranch, and we are honored to be acknowledged for our efforts to control invasive species, manage grazing and protect wildlife habitats.
Being stewards of the land is something that has always been important to us and we strive to innovate and improve at every turn. We have made great progress in our conservation methods over the years and we know that these practices are not only important for the environment but for the long-term stability of our operations.
Unfortunately, no amount of innovation can always protect us from the perils of Mother Nature. As anyone from southeastern Colorado knows, weather issues like drought are always a challenge for us.
For the last 20 years, persistent drought situations have affected our cow-calf operation. We do our best to overcome these weather-related challenges, but during a severe situation like in 2002-03, when we faced both an extreme drought and a down market, we had to liquidate. That is something that is difficult to come back from.
Thankfully, today we do have some tools in place to help deal these types of weather-related risks. One of the most important tools is an efficient crop insurance program for our nation’s ranchers.
When people talk about crop insurance they don’t always associate it with cattle operations like ours, and that is understandable. In its early days, crop insurance was available for only a handful of commodities. But recent farm bills have made improvements to the program and crop insurance has now been expanded to cover new specialty crops as well as the pasture, range and forage where our cattle graze.
This coverage isn’t a handout—farmers and ranchers pay for the protection out of our own budgets. In Colorado, farmers and ranchers paid $69.7 million collectively for crop insurance policies last year, covering nearly 7 million acres.
The federal government also provides some support, which is essential to keeping the program affordable.
We don’t always need this protection, and we would prefer to never have to use it, but the cost is well worth it because it offers some stability and peace of mind.
On Beatty Canyon Ranch, we currently have fourth, fifth and sixth generations involved in day-to-day operations, and our family ranching history stretches all the way back to when my great grandfather immigrated here from Ireland. While this may sound impressive, it is not uncommon among farm families.
For many ranchers across America, being able to pass down our operations to the next generation is a driving force behind what we do. That, along with playing a role in providing food and fiber for our fellow Americans while being stewards of the land is what makes all of the long days and hard work worth it.
We are doing our part, and I urge Congress to do its part by passing a new Farm Bill with crop insurance intact. It, along with our ongoing conservation efforts, with ensure that ranchers will have a legacy to pass down to future generations.
Steve Wooten operates Beatty Canyon Ranch in Northeast Las Animas County. This op-ed appeared in The Chronicle-News on September 27, 2018.