Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2003


Published in Great Plains Research 13 (Spring 2003): 97-125. Copyright © 2003 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Used by permission.


The Great Plains is one focus of the debate in the United States over appropriate land use and sustainability. Within the Plains region, eastern Colorado represents a case study that permits researchers and policymakers to focus on important relationships between agricultural land use, population change, and the sustainability of agriculture, environment, and communities. Colorado Front Range urban areas experienced large increases in population from 1950 to 2000 that resulted in a 35% reduction in total farmland. In the urban fringe region, farmland declined rapidly since 1978 and harvested irrigated cropland declined by 16% since 1990. Rural population in eastern Colorado decreased from 1950 to 1970 and then stabilized. Rural areas experienced decreased total farmland, harvested dryland, and rangeland, as well as intensification of agriculture because of a 76% increase in harvested irrigated land (1950 to 1997). Inflation-adjusted agricultural product income remained stable because of large increases in crop yield from irrigated crops and animal production. The surprising result of this analysis is that agriculture and population are not declining throughout the Great Plains.