The High Desert Conservation District is seeking a .5 mill levy to help fund local agricultural programs long-term.
The special district assists farmers with irrigation and soil management, conducts research on farming practices, and supports education projects like the Montezuma School to Farm Project and Fozzie’s Farm.
The district also helps to provide conservation supplies such as drip irrigation, hoop houses, weed barrier, tree seedlings and use of a no-till seed drill. The district partners with the Natural Resource Conservation Service on programs and to arrange cost shares for farm upgrades.
High Desert currently does not have a mill levy and has been relying on federal, state and county funding that is becoming less available, said Suzanne Aiken, vice president of the district board.
“We offer valuable services and technical support for our agricultural community, but our funding sources have dried up, and in order to continue, we are asking for the mill,” she said.
The .5 mill will raise about $90,000 per year depending on changing valuations. Fifty percent of the funds would go toward administration, and 50 percent would go toward educational and conservation programs. The mill will be fixed at .5 and cannot be raised in the future, Aikin said.
The district hopes to maintain its staff of a part-time manager and two full-time technicians, and will continue to seek state and federal grants to supplement the budget.
The mill applies to property, and equates to a .50 cent tax on every $1,000 of assessed value. For a property assessed at $200,000, that equates to $10 per year.
High Desert’s technical and education services are valuable for the current drought conditions, said board member Steve Miles. Technicians and programs help farmers and ranchers adjust management practices to preserve soil health, protect pastures, and produce the best crop yields possible with less water.
They also focus on encouraging the next generation of farmers by providing financial support and expertise to local youth farm programs.
“Passing farming on is so important to retain our agricultural base,” Miles says. “The average age of our farmers is 60, so what is going to happen in 10 to 15 years? We partner with organizations to get young kids interested in agriculture and attract new farmers.”
Other projects and programs of the district include courses on land management, on-farm consultations, cover crop trials, wildlife management, tamarisk control, grazing and irrigation workshops and soil testing.
In September, High Desert teamed up with Pleasant View farmer Brian Wilson and Teeter Irrigation, of Johnson City, Kansas, to test the company’s new drip irrigation system, which attaches to a center-pivot sprinkler.
The Dragon-Line system attaches drip lines to nozzles of center-pivot sprinklers, which drag the lines to water the crop more efficiently at their instead of from above. It is the first trial of the technology in the area.
“Land and water conservation is more important now than ever, and we believe it is important for High Desert to continue supporting local agriculture,” Aikin said of the funding request.
The mill levy election is May 8 and is by mail-in ballot. Ballots will arrive to voters within the district in mid-April. They can be mailed, or dropped off at the High Desert office, located in the USDA building in Cortez, at 628 W. Fifth St.
High Desert’s district includes Montezuma County, minus the Mancos Valley and downtown Cortez. For more information, visit highdesertconservation.org.