What services do agricultural lands provide to humans?
Agricultural lands also produce fodder, or animal feed. The term fodder most commonly refers to hay grown for animals, the largest acreage crop in Wyoming. Producers also grow grain for animals, like corn and barley. Animals directly graze on pasture and rangeland throughout the state.
Cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, chickens, and goats all utilize Wyoming land to gain nutrition.
The foundation of fiber production is our agricultural land. Raising sheep for fiber is an important part of the Wyoming tradition, although sheep numbers have declined since the mid-1900s. Alpaca can also be found on Wyoming farms.
Here in Wyoming, oil and gas leases associated with agricultural land are fairly common. Another form of fuel production from agricultural land occurs in the form of crops used for biofuel. Roughly 30% corn grown in the United States is used to produce ethanol. Biodiesel, produced from vegetable or animal oils, is another form of biofuel used in agricultural systems. Finally, wood is probably the most common biofuel produced and used on Wyoming farms and ranches, when used for heating.
To learn more about biofuels and renewable energy in Wyoming, see Wyoming Renewables.
"Healthy soils, healthy crops" is a saying often uttered in agricultural circles. A healthy soil provides nutrients to crops when they need it, allows water and air to penetrate and reach plant roots and soil biota, and does not "blow into Nebraska" (as producer Clint Jessen mentioned). Carbon and crop nutrients are stored in the soil in the form of organic matter, a sink that prevents carbon and nitrogen losses to greenhouse gas emissions. Producers conserve soil organic matter by reducing tillage, keeping the ground covered with plant residue or cover crops in the off season, and preventing overgrazing by livestock.
In our interviews, producers talked about water more than anything else. Whether you are growing crops in dryland or irrigated systems or raising livestock, timely availability of good quality water is crucial for plant growth and animal survival in this water-limited environment. Winter moisture, in the form of snowfall, and spring mountain snowpack melt determine water availability for irrigated and dryland crops.
Learn more about water in Wyoming from the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics.
Many crops grown for their fruit - like squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and melons - require insects to pollinate. Honeybees are the most well known pollinator, deliberately moved around the United States to pollinate almonds, cherries, apples, and so forth depending on the season. Here in Wyoming, leafcutter bees are used to pollinate alfalfa crops and produce alfalfa seed.
Our ecosystems have many native pollinators too! These include other types of bees, butterflies, flies, hummingbirds, and more. Learn more from the Berry Biodiversity Center.
The presence of wildlife on agricultural land can be seen as either beneficial or a nuisance. Farmers may create wildlife suitable habitats to promote hunting or fishing on their property, or simply for aesthetic purposes. Some groups, such as the NRCS, may work with farmers to increase biodiversity in unused land within a given property. In other instances, unwelcome wildlife such as deer or elk may graze on crops or bed down- disturbing plants and soil.
Those interested in conserving private land for wildlife should take a look at this recent Open Spaces Initiative: Targeting Conservation Easement Purchases to Benefit Wildlife.
Outdoor recreation is an important part of Wyoming culture and tourism. Many farmers across the state may sustain areas within their property for recreational opportunities. Others may offer tours, hiking trails, or accommodations on their property, otherwise known as agritourism, for educational purposes and/or for supplemental income.
Opening our eyes to the land and structures around us acts as a time machine. Through this project, we learned about the importance of multigenerational farming. Historic homesteads and barracks give glimpses into the past - of pioneers that settled this state, but also of events such as Japanese American confinement at Heart Mountain during World War II and Mormon-American Indian conflict.
When people interact with agricultural landscapes, they learn about how these ecosystems work and why they are important. Simply speaking, we need these habitats around so that we can learn from them! For example, producers interviewed for this project mentioned hosting student interns, giving farm tours to school classes and to the community, and participating in research projects with scientists.