December 7, 2021
Boulder County Commissioners Approve Staff Recommendations for Cropland Policy Update
Boulder County, Colo. - At a public meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 7, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved staff recommendations for an update to the Cropland Policy.
In 2016, the BOCC revised the Cropland Policy to require GE crops to be phased out in three years – by the end of 2019. This deadline was extended by two growing seasons, to Dec. 31, 2021, to allow for continued work by a county-identified contractor to identify alternative crops that would not cause financial ruin to Boulder County’s large-acre farmers. With this deadline approaching and without viable crop alternatives to keep these open space lands in agricultural production, the BOCC directed staff to bring forward revisions to the Cropland Policy that focus on the broader goals of soil health and minimization of pesticide use on county-owned croplands.
Given this direction, staff developed recommendations which were presented at a public hearing on Oct. 19, 2021. The commissioners heard approximately six hours of public testimony and received over 200 written comments between Oct. 1 and Nov. 22. On Thursday, Oct. 28, the Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee recommended all staff recommendations for approval by the BOCC.
All written public comment received by Nov. 22 and videos of all meetings are available at boco.org/CroplandPolicy.
As a result of this process, Boulder County Parks & Open Space (BCPOS) staff recommended the following changes to the Cropland Policy to the BOCC:
- Continue to allow previously approved genetically engineered (GE) corn and sugar beet crops to be grown on BCPOS agricultural lands.
- The updated policy aligns with the first cropland policy adopted in 2012 which permitted these two GE crops to be grown on county owned agricultural land.
- Any proposed new GE crops must undergo a rigorous review process by BCPOS before being allowed on county-owned agricultural land.
- Restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on BCPOS agricultural lands with the following exceptions:
- Allow neonicotinoid seed coatings for current farmers operating under an agreement with Western Sugar Cooperative.
- Consider other neonicotinoid use on a case-by-case basis, under limited circumstances.
- The two listed exceptions must reduce overall pesticide use.
- Develop a soil health program.
- Establish a principles-based program that addresses the functioning of soil as a complex system such as through the use of cover crops, compost addition, and no/reduced tilling.
- The program aims to reduce soil erosion, sequester carbon, improve air and water quality and promote sustainable and regenerative farming practices.
- BCPOS will collaborate with tenants to develop and implement the program.
- Edit the Cropland Policy.
- Incorporate policy changes and streamline language to remove inconsistent or conflicting language.
“Three goals drove my decision making on the Cropland Policy. First, preserve agriculture lands through open space acquisition and work to keep them viable and productive. Second, improve and regenerate soil health to enhance productivity and take climate action through sequestering carbon. Third, use practices that minimize pesticides,” said Boulder County Commissioner Matt Jones.
“After hearing testimony, reading public comments, and consulting extensively with our staff, the changes to our Cropland Policy recommended by staff and POSAC proved to be the best way to sequester carbon, reduce water consumption and reliance on pesticides, and improve overall soil health while also fostering a healthy agricultural economy, said Commissioner Claire Levy. "It is regrettable that the changes required by the 2016 direction from the Board of County Commissioners could not be implemented. After five years of effort and the investment of almost a million dollars to bring them to life, we now know that the previous policy proved to not be consistent with the realities of agricultural practices and existing markets.”
“The Cropland Policy, similar to other use codes, intergovernmental agreements, and leases, require updates and review. Boulder County has over 25,000 acres of total agricultural land and we need a management plan that will guide the carbon sequestration, regenerative agriculture, and best practices on as much of that land as economically viable. We need to put long-term solutions in place so that agriculture can grow and thrive in Boulder County,” said Commissioner Marta Loachamin.
For more information about the Cropland Policy and this process, please visit boco.org/CroplandPolicy or contact Mike Foster, Agricultural Resources Division Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (303) 678-6234.
NOTE: The Dec. 7 meeting was delayed due to technical difficulties with the published meeting link. The commissioners paused the meeting when they were made aware of technical issue until a new Zoom link could be published.