There were 36,500 farms in Colorado in 2008, of which 44 percent produced annual sales of more than $10,000; many of the rest were sidelines for operators who held other jobs. Farmland occupies 12.7 million hectares (31.3 million acres), of which 36 percent was used to grow crops. While a small part of the rest was tended pasture, by far the major share was used as range for the grazing of livestock. In addition to areas classified as farmland, there are extensive grazing lands in the national forests and other federal lands in Colorado. These grazing lands are leased by ranchers on a seasonal basis.
The sale of livestock and livestock products (mostly cattle and calves) accounted for 72 percent of farm income in 2006. The sale of crops was much less important.
Sheep and cattle are raised in large numbers throughout the mountains and the drier sections of the plains. The leading cattle-raising area is in the north central part of the state, just east of the Rockies. Colorado is the nation’s fourth largest producer of cattle. Most of the state’s livestock are beef cattle raised on ranches, but some dairy cattle are also raised on irrigated pastures near Denver and other urban markets. In addition, sheep and cattle from other states are fattened for market in Colorado. Most ranchers use additional grazing lands both in Colorado and in neighboring states for their herds. Western Colorado is the leading sheep-raising area in the state. The sheep are raised for both wool and meat, especially spring lamb. Each spring, lambs from the western flocks are sent to the Fort Collins area for fattening. Poultry and horses are also raised in the state. Hogs and dairy products contribute significantly to the state’s agricultural economy as well.
Wheat is the leading cash crop. It is raised chiefly on the High Plains and is the only major crop grown in the state without the aid of irrigation. Because annual rainfall fluctuates, the greater part of the plains is often too dry for cultivation every year. Therefore fallowing land and other forms of soil and water conservation are important. Corn is the second most important crop grown in Colorado. However, much of the corn is fed directly to livestock. Hay which includes alfalfa, timothy, and wild hay, is also important, as are plants grown in nurseries and greenhouses for live sale. In some plains areas, barley, grain sorghum, and oats are also grown, often in rotation with wheat. In addition, many stock farms raise both wheat and cattle.
Irrigation is used on 22 percent of all the cultivated land. Irrigated crops include alfalfa, as well as dry beans, sugar beets, potatoes, and a variety of other vegetables and fruit. The chief irrigated areas are the San Luis Valley, the High Plains of east central Colorado, and the South Platte, Arkansas, and Gunnison river valleys.
Alfalfa, an important forage crop, is grown in all these areas. In addition to growing alfalfa, farmers in the South Platte Valley and the High Plains specialize in sugar beets, and farmers in the Arkansas Valley grow melons, other fruits, and vegetables. The San Luis Valley is noted for potatoes and lettuce. Apples and peaches are the chief crops in the Gunnison Valley. Flowers are grown commercially in fields and hothouses near Denver. The major sources of irrigation water, in addition to the South Platte, are the Río Grande and the Arkansas and Colorado rivers, as well as numerous wells. Among the principal irrigation projects in the state are the Uncompahgre and Pine river projects, both in southwestern Colorado, and the Colorado-Big Thompson and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects, both in central Colorado. In the Colorado-Big Thompson and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects, water from the headwaters of the Colorado River, west of the divide, is transported by tunnel to the Eastern Slope. "Colorado" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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