History of the Colorado Department of Agriculture

historic photo of two big horses pulling old farm machineryHow did the Colorado Department of Agriculture get started?

In Colorado, a separate state agency devoted to agriculture did not exist until 1933 when the Division of Agriculture was created. Before this date many agricultural functions were done by state and local-level government agencies. Livestock brands were recorded with county clerks as of 1877.

A State Board of Inspection Commissioners, appointed by the governor, was created by an act of the General Assembly in 1881. By 1903, this board was recreated as the State Board of Stock Inspection Commissioners, which provided for the inspection of livestock before shipment by railroad or removal beyond the state boundaries, quarantine against infectious diseases in livestock and penalties for violation of the law. The Board also had the power to appoint a State Veterinary Surgeon.

In 1883 the Colorado Horticultural Society was made a state bureau with the name being changed to the State Board of Horticulture in 1893. Its duties were to protect and promote the plant and crop-producing interests in the state.

In 1885 the Office of the State Dairy Commissioner was created. It was later abolished and recreated several times until 1933 when the office was incorporated under the Division of Agriculture. This office oversaw regulation of the manufacture and sale of all dairy products.

The State Board of Agriculture, the governing board of the State Agriculture College, became the primary state agency having major agricultural functions by the turn of the century. Agricultural statistics were collected by county assessors but then compiled by the Secretary of the State Board of Agriculture by 1908.

black and white photo of the state fair rodeo grounds A State Fair Board was created in 1911 and comprised of the State Board of Agriculture and State Board of Horticulture. Support for a state fair grew until, in 1917, a State Fair Commission was established and gave official status to the annual Colorado State Fair at Pueblo. Also in 1911, the Dairy Commissioner was appointed in cooperation with the college, and in 1913 the head of the Department of Animal Husbandry of the State Agricultural College was made the ex-officio State Dairy Commissioner.

In 1913 the Office of the State Horticulturist was also created under the State Board of Agriculture. The Office of the State Entomologist was created in 1907 under the supervision of the State Board of Agriculture and in 1921 the Division of Marketing was created also under the Board's supervision. Today, educational programs still remain a primary function of the State Board of Agriculture.

In 1933, a Division of Agriculture was created and combined many of these functions. It was led by a governor-appointed Director of Agriculture. The sections established in the division included the following: Colorado Director of Markets, State Hail Insurance Department, Bureau of Plant and Insect Control, the State Horticulturist, the State Dairy Commissioner and the State Fair Commissioner.

photo of father holding his son in a wheat field A substantial reorganization and centralization of agricultural functions occurred in 1949 with passage of the Agricultural Act of 1949. A major department was created for Agriculture which included the Administrative Services Division, the Division of Plant Industry, the Division of Markets and the Division of Animal Industry. Duties relating to the collection and publication of agricultural statistics were transferred from the State Planning Commission to the Department of Agriculture. An eight-member State Agricultural Commission, appointed by the governor, was created and was headed by the State Agricultural Commissioner. Today the Agricultural Commission has nine members. Its function is to determine the general policies to be followed by the department in administering and enforcing regulatory and service laws, rules and regulations.

The State Fair Commission was placed as an independent agency under the Executive Department in 1949. But in 1968 it was transferred to the Department of Agriculture as a division. In 1969 the Division of Inspection and Consumer Services was added to the department

A Colorado State Fair Authority was created in 1983, which was an independent political subdivision, but today the Authority is again a division under the Department of Agriculture. The most recent change in 2000 was the transfer of the State Soil Conservation Board from the Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture.

Today, the Colorado Department of Agriculture is made up of the Commissioner's Office and seven divisions:

  • Animal Health Division,
  • Brand Inspection Board,
  • Colorado State Fair,
  • Conservation Services,
  • Inspection & Consumer Services,
  • Markets, 
  • Plant Industry.

Historical information according to the Colorado State Archives Record Holdings.