Best of the West: Alternative crops boost bottom lines; Oregon’s outdoor rec report; women-led ranches on the rise

The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting Jan. 14, 2019 that you don't want to miss.

Once on the fringe, production of alternative crops such as hemp and millet (pictured) are on the rise across the West. The new Farm Bill, which passed in December, includes provisions to incentivize the production of cover crops and reclassify the strain of cannabis used to produce fiber for clothing and other materials.

Reclassifying hemp as a commodity makes it easier for farmers to diversify their yields and qualify for benefits such as crop insurance. In Colorado, where hemp was legalized along with recreational marijuana in 2014, production is skyrocketing. Other states are “racing” to re-learn hemp farming and meet the surge in demand for cannabidiol, a derivative of hemp that has become a popular additive in drinks, foods and dietary supplements.

To prevent soil damage and nutrient loss, High Plains farmers are experimenting with cover crops to prepare the earth for seeding future crops like corn. In North Dakota and South Dakota, millet, barley, oats and radishes are providing food for people and cattle, while conditioning the soil for planting.   

As more states embrace alternative crops, distilleries are experimenting with concoctions such as quinoa whiskey, and Kansas has opened an educational academy to train farmers on growing industrial hemp. “Industrial hemp is not pot, but it is a pot of gold for Kansas farmers,” said businessman Joe Bisogno at the academy’s ribbon-cutting.  

California Storm Watch: Powerful winter storms in California this week have prompted evacuations and claimed five lives. Flash flood warnings are in effect, and the threat of mudslides resulted in road closures in areas impacted by recent wildfires. 

Healthy Bottom Line: A report estimates that in Oregon, participation in outdoor recreation saves $1.4 billion annually in state health care costs. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department released the study, which calculates how much energy people expend when engaging in outdoor recreation, and the corresponding reduction in costs related to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, depression, dementia, diabetes and several cancers.

Home on the Range: More western ranches are being led by women as mechanization and technology alter the industry. In this photo essay by The New York Times, view spectacular imagery of female-led farm operations in South Dakota, Colorado, Washington and Oregon and learn how they’re adapting to the growing trend of farms and ranches changing hands.

Gather Round the Campfire: A “distinctly western art form” is being celebrated this weekend (Jan. 17-20) at the 30th annual Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Golden, Colo. Each year, poets and musicians convene to perform their odes to life in the West. Learn more about this year’s milestone event.

Western Governors are delivering their annual State of the State addresses, read a roundup of the speeches delivered so far, and find links to the full transcripts.  

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