The French idea of Terroir describes the uniqueness of soils, climate and culture resulting in a regional set of agricultural techniques, production methods, and products. While the notion is not often exported beyond France, except in the wine industry, it is applied to nearly all agricultural products from truffles and wine, to cheese and nuts. Protections for producers both within France and Europe (Protected Designation of Origin and Protected Geographical Indication) help ensure that the loss of productivity often associated with more ancestral and artisanal practices is offset by brand protection and higher market value.
Terroirs result from the development over time of a natural environment through agricultural practices by a human society. As such their unique identities are the result of local variability in soils, climate, but also culture. While European terroirs developed over centuries, the speed of agricultural development in the intermountain-west coupled with wider information availability has led to larger – though still varying – regional identities in agriculture. Here are a couple of examples of these regional variations:
- In January 2020 alone, California produced 350 years’ worth of Wyoming milk production.
- A Colorado farm is on average 818 acres compared to an average 2430 acres in Wyoming (2017 data), though both are following trends down from 991 acres and 3651 acres respectively in 2002.
- Pennsylvania farm numbers have been dwindling in the past decade while Wyoming farm numbers have been slightly increasing.
With this sped up development of agricultural practices, regional research and knowledge was pivotal to ensure productivity success. This was achieved through the creation of Land-grant institutions with a three part mission: education, research, and extension service. The University of Wyoming is one of 76 such institutions dotted around the country. They were designated by successive Acts in 1862, 1890, and 1994. With the original mission to improve the availability of education and research in agriculture, military tactics and engineering, they have broadened in scope over the years but retain the regional anchoring in both research and student cohorts.
In 1887 the Hatch act established agriculture experiment stations at the land-grant institutions. The university of Wyoming’s agriculture experiment station operates under the mission to: “Support fundamental and applied research on agricultural, natural, and community resource issues related to the current and future needs of Wyoming, the region, the nation, and the world.” You can check out current research ongoing at the station using this tool: http://www.wyagresearch.org/research/index.php.
Following on from the creation of experimental stations, the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created a Cooperative Extension Service associated with land-grant institutions to ensure dissemination of research within agricultural communities. The University of Wyoming now counts 27 extension offices spread throughout Wyoming and the Wind River Reservation.
This three-pronged approach has led to the University of Wyoming, and the College of Agriculture in particular, to become a reflection of the Wyoming Terroir, supporting 12000 ranching/farming operations covering 29 million acres of which 2.6 million are cropland. Current specializations in meat production, dryland crop production, and rangeland management are simply a reflection of the needs of the Wyoming agricultural economy.