OST ag specialist extends his services to county residents

February 27, 2023
Drew Walters collects soil samples for lab analysis.

Drew Walters collects soil samples for lab analysis.

Something’s eating your asparagus, and it isn’t you. Invisible forces are destroying an elderberry bush, while everything around it flourishes. Half of an evenly irrigated pasture is dotted with desiccated grass. The other half is fine. What’s going on?

If only there was someone you could ask. There is.

Drew Walters joined Open Space and Trails as its agriculture specialist in April 2022. In addition to overseeing OST’s agricultural leasing program, roughly 20 percent of his time is allotted to serving as the county’s agriculture/horticulture specialist under the Colorado State University Extension program. In the latter role, Walters is available to assist local ranchers, farmers and backyard gardeners with everything from soil and feed testing to advice on greenhouse operations, irrigation efficiencies and pest identification.

Pitkin County has mostly been without the services of an Extension agriculture agent for the better part of three decades, with the exception of a few very part-time assignments from specialists serving in neighboring counties. Walters, formerly the full-time agriculture, horticulture and natural resources Extension agent for Garfield County, is the first consistent Extension presence in Pitkin County in a decade.

While he’s up for tackling whatever question comes his way, Walters is the first to admit he’s not an expert in all things farm-related. That’s the beauty of the Extension program, he said.

“The really beautiful thing about Extension is it’s a network of experts who work together,” he said. “I’m not a livestock specialist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t provide livestock services. I can call on a livestock expert.”

He can collect samples for analysis at CSU’s Soil, Water and Plant Testing Laboratory or one of two veterinary diagnostic labs (there is lab fee to the rancher/grower), explain the results and outline the options to address a problem. Or, he might examine the leaves of a stricken plant under a field microscope. That’s how he diagnosed the problem with the elderberry – eriophyid mites, which can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Sometimes, all it takes is a photograph. When Walters received a picture of a scary-looking spider in a text message, he was able to assure the sender that the offending arachnid was not a poisonous brown recluse, but rather, a harmless funnel weaver spider.

Many of the services he can provide to citizens are the same ones he also offers to the Open Space and Trails program’s agricultural lessees. The program involves 780 leased acres and 14 agricultural producers. On the county’s agricultural properties, soil composition and moisture are being monitored with an eye toward enhancing the soil and improving irrigation efficiencies. Walters has also assessed pastures for forage growth and yield estimates – measurements that will help track the health and trajectory of pastures.

The science- and research-based services of university Extension programs across the country date back to the administration of President Abraham Lincoln. In 1862, a federal act began financing educational institutions by granting federally control land to the states, allowing them to sell the land and raise funds to establish and endow what were called land-grant colleges. CSU was established as a land-grant college in 1870, though it was initially known as Colorado Agricultural College. In 1914, Congress authorized land-grant universities to provide research-based information on a range of topics to Extension agents in each county.

In turn, Walters is providing it to citizens. Among his goals is offering educational workshops to county residents in conjunction with adjacent counties. The first of these to take place in Pitkin County will occur this spring.

A series of free, fruit tree-pruning workshops in the greater area will culminate with a session at Pitkin County’s Emma Open Space orchard near Basalt on April 1. Other pruning workshops are planned March 4 in New Castle, March 11 in Glenwood Springs and March 25 in Carbondale. Host agencies include CSU Extension, UpRoot Colorado, Colorado Edible Forest and Open Space and Trails. Signup is required.

In addition, a tri-county Pesticide Applicator Workshop will take place March 14 in Glenwood Springs. The registration deadline is March 7.

– By Pitkin County Open Space and Trails


2022 Pitkin County Agriculture Program Report

CSU re-establishes Extension program in Pitkin County

Contact Drew