DENVER – The steering committee of the Ogallala Commons Project (OCP), a think tank with the purpose of providing stimulus, know-how and funding for economic development in communities overlying the Ogallala Aquifer, has announced its objectives for the coming six months. Steering committee members from Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas met for a conference titled “Renegotiating the Grass Economy,” Feb. 8-9 in Nazareth, Tex.
The OCP over the coming 6-12 months will focus on building awareness of the group and its objectives; obtaining grants for expanded, long-term funding; and starting selected economic development projects throughout the region. The OCP is funded by Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) Cooperative Development Center through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development.
“As the irrigated farming sector, which has been a primary industry throughout the western plains, adapts to declining Ogallala Aquifer water levels, communities will have to make transitions,” said RMFU Cooperative Development Center Director Bob Mailander. “The OCP is designed to help farmers and ranchers and the communities they support make this transition without decimating their community social and economic structures.”
Keynoting the OCP conference were Frank and Deborah Popper, geographers whose analysis of demographic and economic data on the Great Plains over the past two decades indicates continuing transition away from irrigated crop cultivation to a grass-based grazing economy. The couple’s research was the subject of Where the Buffalo Roam (1992), one of four finalists for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction books.
“It’s not that the Poppers advocate or oppose the return of Great Plains cropland to grazing land, but it may be inevitable due to current trends, such as lower commodity prices and rising crop input costs,” Mailander said.
Dr. Jim Gerrish, grazing specialist at the University of Missouri Forage Research Center, also spoke at the OCP conference. Gerrish provided an overview of grazing management and cited statistics from operations that have successfully transitioned from crop production to animal grazing.
Also speaking at the conference were Dr. C. Wayne Hanselka, extension program leader of Texas A&M University’s Rangeland Ecology and Management; Dr. Tim Steffens, manager of Mescalero Cattle Growers, Mescalero, N.M., who spoke on the challenges and benefits of various forages; and pasture-finished meat producers Peggy Sechrist, of Fredericksburg, Tex., and Alan Birkenfeld, of Nazareth, Tex.
The OCP steering committee also announced plans to convene two conferences on water. The first will be Oct. 10, 2003, in Ogallala, Neb. The second water conference will be held Feb. 7, 2004, in Nazareth, Tex., in conjunction with the 15th Annual Southern Plains Conference. For more information on OCP, contact Mailander or OCP Coordinator Darryl Birkenfeld at 806-938-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The OCP website is www.ogallalacommons.org