Best of the West: Developing a next-gen agricultural workforce; investing in wildfire mitigation; cleaning up orphan wells; paying college students $10,000 for community service

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Jan. 17, 2022. (Photos courtesy of Eric Gay)

As agricultural conditions change, many in the industry are focused on developing new farming practices to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Educational programs are being developed throughout the region to expose students and adults to agricultural careers and innovative technologies that have the potential to stabilize or even increase profits long into the future, as seen in the 2021 USDA Farm Sector Income Forecast.  

Hoping to grow a more diverse workforce and address inequity, the USDA is providing $50M in conservation assistance and another $2 million in risk management education for western farmers who are new to the industry, low-income, socially disadvantaged or veterans. The USDA also provided The Desert Resource Institute in Nevada with a $1.5 million grant to strengthen the role of USDA Climate Hubs in Indian Country and help addresses climate injustice. In Nebraska, the USDA awarded Northeast Community College $450,000 for workforce training in ag-tech. Missoula County Public Schools in Montanais working to grow its agricultural workforce through hands-on education, allowing students to raise animals until they are brought to the slaughterhouse. Students then learn about the processing of meat and go on to sell their products to the Missoula community.

Several western states are even looking to develop an agricultural workforce in urban areas. Colorado State University recentlyopened an agricultural and veterinary campus in downtown Denver. Utah State University acquired the Salt Lake County Equestrian Center to provide urban students agricultural education.

To help this next generation of farmers and ranchers combat the new challenges they face each year, exciting research is being conducted throughout the region. Researchers with the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at the University of California Davis’ developed a  ‘cooling cube’ that could replace ice in cold food storage. The University of California was awarded a $1.5 million USDA grant to develop climate-smart agriculture practices that help farmers and ranchers adjust to uncertain weather and climate events. The Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University also received a $500,000 grant from the USDA to inform producers about direct-to-consumer meat sales and marketing. At the North Dakota State University, researchers are developing cross-beading techniques to grow weed and disease-resistant crops.  

Fighting Fire With Fire: The Biden Administration recently unveiled a 10-year $50 billion plan to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire in 11 western states. “It’s the time to act,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who emphasized the goal is to make forests more resilient and fire adaptive. The plan includes mitigation methods like controlled burns and thinning overgrown trees. Under the plan, the USDA’s land treatment efforts will quadruple. Additional treatments will be conducted using $3 billion that Congress allocated the U.S. Forest Service as part of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure for cleaning up areas that are vulnerable to wildfires in western states. Currently, the agency uses mitigation techniques on 20 to 30 million acres every 10 years and plans to increase that to 50 million over the next decade. Learn more about prescribed fire management in WGA’s Out West podcast on the benefits of natural fire

Early Spring Cleaning: Congress recently allocated $4.7 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure bill for orphan well cleanup on federal, private and tribal lands. “I have seen firsthand how the orphaned oil and gas wells left behind by extractive industries lead to hazardous pollution, water contamination and safety hazards for our communities,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Halland. “I am proud to join our sister agencies in this effort.” Read more see exactly how and where the money will be spent. Read a letter WGA sent to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, signed by Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon, and Gov. Brad Little of Idaho, to get the Governors' persepctive on the issue. 

Water Security: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and leaders of the state Legislature recently announced plans to invest $1 billion into water security over the next 100 years. The plan wants to add to the water portfolio by investing in drought-resilient technology like desalination, growing its Drought Mitigation Fund, laying the groundwork for new large-scale water augmentation projects, and encouraging further reuse and efficiency with current supplies. In a recent letter to the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, WGA advocated for congressional support of water infrastructure and access to basic data supporting states’ drought response. Read, download the letter

Give a Little, Get a Lot: To help with workforce shortages in areas like K-12 education, California is offering college students $10,000 for 450 hours of community service. The Californians for All College Corps prioritizes accepting low-income students to reduce debt and create an equitable college experience. “We are making it clear here in California, like the GI bill, if you are willing to serve your community and give back in a meaningful way, we are going to help you pay for college,” said Chief Service Officer Josh Fryday. 

Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

Check out our podcast, Out West, on PodbeanSpotify and Apple Podcasts

sign up for our newsletters