U.S. Senate, Congressional hopefuls address Colorado ag issues
Colorado’s major party candidates for the U.S. Senate and Congress were asked by The Colorado Statesman to respond to a series of questions regarding agricultural and farm issues. Scott Tipton, Republican candidate in CD 3, and Ryan Frazier, Republican candidate in CD 7, declined to participate. Part 2 of candidate responses next week
QUESTION 1: What is the toughest challenge facing Colorado’s farmers today?
As I travel across the state and speak with Colorado farmers and ranchers they often tell me accessing credit in this difficult economy is one of their greatest obstacles. I have fought to find ways to help loosen up credit to get the flywheel spinning again, including making sure the Farm Service Agency has had the necessary resources to provide direct operating loans and loan guarantees to Colorado producers.
Other challenges farmers and ranchers are facing include concerns over water resources, increased production costs, and how to pass the family farm on to the next generation — which is why I have cosponsored a bill to make it affordable for Colorado’s family farmers and ranchers and those who have conservation easements on their property to hand down their land to their families, for as long as their families keep the land in use for farming and ranching. I have called on Congress to provide estate tax relief. My plan would raise the tax exemption for estates to $5 million for single filers and $10 million for couples. It would protect nearly half of those who would otherwise owe estate tax next year from having to pay any estate tax at all. The tax rate should not exceed 2009 levels, under any circumstances.
In a competitive international market, farmers’ biggest domestic challenge is increased government regulation. In the past two years alone, EPA has moved forward with plans to regulate dust, water on farms (likely affecting stock tanks and lagoons), and a common herbicide that EPA had already approved. Science must come before politics, and the government should be a friend — not adversary — of farmers.
As modern farming becomes more and more industrialized, it is increasingly difficult for family farmers and small farmers to make a living. With the cost of agricultural inputs and farm equipment rising, and the prices for crops falling, the profit margin for farmers gets thinner and thinner. As the average age of farmers in Colorado is now 57, these factors also make it difficult to encourage our young people to go into farming, and therefore difficult to pass on farms that have been in the hands of families for generations.
The toughest issue facing farmers today is remaining competitive in the international marketplace. Competition is threatened by taxation and new regulation, such as that proposed by the new cap and trade bill. The death tax, which is scheduled to return in 2011, has the potential to destroy family farms and ranches that have taken generations to build. It should be retired.
I think that the toughest challenge our farm families face right now is the economic uncertainty that faces our entire country. Difficult access to credit and a fickle market have left many of our family farms in debt with lower than expected profits. Often their hands are tied not only by finances, but by overly burdensome contractual obligations from the few major ag corporations. Hopefully, the next farm bill will address the some of these serious systemic flaws that are hurting our farmers. We also need to significantly raise the threshold for any estate tax to allow for family farms to be passed down from generation to generation. More long term challenges like invasive species, changes in climate and new questions like genetic modification of seeds and other products are on the minds of both farmers and policy makers.
I have talked with dairy farmers in the Erie area and Cap and Trade would be disastrous for them because it would significantly increase the cost of fuel as well as electricity. They are concerned about that. Over burdening regulations are always a concern and immigration impacts them as well. The reliable workers farmers can get are generally not U.S. born. They are migrant workers that come up across the border. Farmers generally do not have the means to verify their workers’ legal status. A guest worker program for the types of workers that can come in and do the work that needs to be done and be dependable doing it. The inheritance tax is one more thing that affects family farmers. This creates problems because most of those farms are worth more than the $1 or $2 million threshold making it difficult to pass on the family farm to future generations.
A sufficient water supply and the death tax are the two toughest challenges for Colorado farmers today. As urban sprawl continues to pull water into major metropolitan areas, coupled with interstate compacts that must be met, farmers are going to see less and less available water to irrigate their crops or water their livestock. Farmers use many conservation tools to use their water supply efficiently, but farmers can’t regulate large cities that use large amounts of water for landscaping and other nontraditional uses. As for the death tax, many heirs of farms and ranches have to sell their estate just to pay for this unnecessary tax. We need to repeal the death tax in full, or at least eliminate the tax for active farmers and ranchers so that Colorado farms and ranches aren’t turned into housing developments just to pay this tax.
One of the toughest challenges facing Colorado farmers today is a result of the financial crisis. With the closure of banks in Northern Colorado and the underlying financial crisis, obtaining loans in today’s economy is extremely difficult. I have fought to ensure that more direct and guaranteed loans are available to farmers, and I will continue to work with the USDA to make sure that Colorado farmers and ranchers can secure the capital they need to operate and succeed.
Another challenge facing Colorado today is the decline of family farms. More than ever, younger generations are leaving the family farm, which leaves no one in place to take over farming operations. Young farmers who want to take over their family farm should be exempted from the estate tax, and I strongly support a bill to do just that. This will help ensure future generations of farms stay in the family in Colorado.
In Colorado and the West, our way of life depends on water, both in our cities and on our farms. It’s fair to say that the water challenges we face today will only grow in the future. It is up to us to address these challenges and work together to develop solutions. In May, I held a bipartisan Congressional hearing on water in Greeley. This hearing, the first of its kind in Greeley, reinforced how much agriculture desperately needs additional water storage capacity. Traveling throughout the Fourth District, I have seen firsthand what will happen without action: the buying and drying-up of farms that for generations have been a vital part of Colorado’s agricultural sector. I am proud of my record funding the Arkansas Valley Conduit and strongly supporting the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation project, helping ensure Coloradans have access to clean, reliable water.
Farmers and ranchers continue to face a host of challenges, but I believe that uncertainty over federal policy regarding the farm safety net and tax policy are the toughest issues outside of water. Like water, these two issues are difficult to predict and carry even more risk. Since taking office, I listened to the agriculture producers in the Fourth Congressional District when they told me that they were concerned about future government policies. The farm safety net and tax policy, specifically, rank among their top concerns. Investments in agriculture take many years to pay-off and, consequently, are vulnerable to government policies that disrupt markets. Similarly, tax policy is a looming issue in my district where many of the farms’ owners are aging.
I am confident that there is a profitable future for a vibrant agriculture sector in Colorado as well as our urban communities. What isn’t certain is how we will get there. Today we are closer than ever to seeing the Arkansas Valley Conduit and the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation project become a reality, and I will continue work with rest of the Congressional delegation to do everything I can to keep Colorado farming and ranching strong.
Escalating cost of inputs like fertilizer, fuel and equipment are big issues. These costs will rise even further if Cap and Trade becomes law.
Water is also a big issue. There are continued water storage needs, which is why I support NISP.
The continued challenge to discover value-added opportunities for our commodities is an ongoing challenge.
The death tax and its potential to prevent the transfer of an agricultural business from one generation to the next is a big issue.
Also the ability of younger farmers and ranchers to afford to enter into that business is of concern. We need to find new ways to put profit back into agriculture.
Some of the most difficult challenges facing Colorado farmers center on changing and increasing EPA and USDA requirements. Complying with additional regulatory procedures is often very difficult for traditional family owned and operated farms. Also, in Colorado, water concerns are always an issue.
Making a living/profit is a big issue and passing a farm on to one’s children is perhaps an even greater challenge. That said, managing risk has always been at the heart of the challenge for farmers in Colorado and across the world.
Inputs: land, water, fertilizer, seeds, pesticides are increasingly controlled by large multinational cartels, and are (with the exception of water) increasingly coming from foreign markets. Water presents a special challenge competing with industrial and municipal uses. Sunshine, precipitation, and climate variation are all factors that add to that risk. Market prices for harvested produce and the global nature of today’s food markets are also risk factors facing farmers. Managing that risk in light of the myriad government interventions designed to promote changing local and national priorities further complicate the challenge.
Uncertainly in what to expect from the government — what is the EPA going to do? What will the next Farm Bill look like? What are taxes going to be like (especially the death tax)?
The toughest challenge for Colorado farmers is consistently receiving fair prices for products.
The toughest challenge for Colorado’s farmers in the last few years is the same facing all Americans. The recession has negatively impacted industries across our economy and agriculture is no different. A decrease in consumer demand and lowered commodity prices combined with decreased access to credit has hurt farmers. As the economy begins to recover, it is important to work to open new trade markets for Colorado products and ensure adequate access to credit. I sponsored an amendment with Rep. Mike Coffman in the House version of the Small Business Jobs Act to allow community banks to amortize their real estate losses over a six to ten year period. This provision helped the Colorado agricultural community in the 1980s and it will help farmers and small businesses now.
QUESTION 2: What part of the current Farm Bill particularly stands out as positive for Colorado farmers, and what aspects, if any, negatively affects them?
U.S. SENATE Bennet
Farming operations are diverse and the Farm Bill affects farmers and ranchers differently, depending on the size and type of their farming operations.
While maintaining a strong farm safety net, the 2008 Farm Bill made headway in agricultural conservation, to the benefit of Colorado producers, wildlife and natural resources. Additionally, it put renewed value on technical assistance, emphasized the importance of agricultural research and provided significant support for the development and growth of farm-based renewable energy. It included efforts to assist producers who want to access the organic marketplace and new markets at home and abroad, and to serve limited-resource, beginning and minority farmers and ranchers.
There is more we must do. My top priorities for the 2012 Farm Bill include working to ensure that farming and ranching are profitable, maintaining reliable protections so farmers and ranchers can succeed even when grappling with natural disaster or price swings, and revitalizing our rural areas by creating new jobs and economic opportunities. The bill will be critical for Colorado. I will work closely with Colorado farmers and ranchers as I fight in the Agriculture Committee to emphasize Colorado’s priorities in the 2012 Farm Bill.
U.S. SENATE Buck
The current Farm Bill includes important conservation efforts. Farmers often laud the EQIP program, which provides farmers with the capital to improve environmental practices. One of the virtues of EQIP is that it’s not a top-down mandate, but a collaboration between the government and farmers — who, after all, have a long tradition of being good stewards of the environment.
Farmers have voiced concerns about a few ways crop insurance programs work in the current bill. In particular, I’ve heard that some farmers can have trouble insuring the same crop two years in a row, and there are fallow land rules that may need reform.
CD 1 DeGette
One of the positive aspects of the current Farm Bill is its emphasis on conservation programs to help protect marginal land and to encourage conservation practices in farming. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) provides financial and technical assistance to conserve and enhance soil, water, air, and natural resources on agricultural land. Also, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a voluntary program that pays agricultural landowners for not farming their land in order to preserve topsoil and reduce water runoff. Both of these programs will help Colorado farmers maintain the land they need to compete in the global, 21st century marketplace.
CD 1 Fallon
One positive aspect of the Farm Bill is EQIP dollars for farmers, which makes funds available for livestock operations to better employ conservation techniques that benefit all taxpayers in the area.
CD 2 Polis
This might not come to mind first as an aspect of the last Farm Bill that has helped Colorado farmers and Colorado more generally, but Title VII of the last bill was focused on advancing agricultural research. Schools in Colorado like CU, CSU, UNC and the Colorado School of Mines are leaders in the natural sciences and home to leading world experts in key issues affecting agriculture. The advancements and discoveries made on issues like invasive species, climate and drought and hydrology at our schools are used the world over. I was also happy to see the new organics title (Title X) included in the last Farm Bill. This is a step forward and something that deserves a great deal more work and attention.
Unfortunately, I do have some fundamental concerns with the last Farm Bill, and I want to look for creative ways to make American agriculture better for the farmer, consumer and our environment alike as we start to consider a new farm bill next year and going into 2012. We’ve seen a rise in policy that ends up supporting only a few central corporations, and isn’t as focused on ensuring our farmers and family farms have the support structure they need to thrive. Time and time again we hear stories of farmers who want to be entrepreneurs and innovative in how they farm or manage their livestock, but can’t or are curtailed because of financial or contractual constraints put in place by major agricultural companies. A great deal of the last farm bill simply perpetuates that broken system and I think we can do better.
CD 2 Bailey
What we need to do for agriculture here in the U.S. is the same thing with what New Zealand did. We need to get government to stop interfering with agriculture. A lot of the subsidies to grow or not grow go to corporate farmers and do not help family businesses. We need to make a transition towards a market based agricultural economy and get the government interference out.
CD 3 Salazar
There are many aspects of the 2008 Farm Bill that benefit Colorado farmers. There are several conservation programs within the Farm Bill that incentivize farmers and ranchers to conserve and minimize water usage, soil disturbance, and native species destruction. Here are the two most beneficial to Colorado: 1) EQIP-Environmental Quality Incentives Program is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers who face threats to water on their land; 2) CRP-Conservation Reserve Program is a program used to reduce soil erosion and protects the future use of our land to produce food and fibers. The Rural Development title of the 2008 Farm Bill strongly benefits Colorado and its rural communities. Whether its rural electric programs, water and wastewater facilities, or broadband access, the Rural Development section of the Farm Bill is vital to the livelihood of rural Colorado.
CD 4 Markey
One of the positive aspects of 2008 Farm Bill for Colorado farmers was the strong conservation title. Just recently, the USDA announced that Colorado received $450,000 for the Small Game Walk-In Access Program. The money came from the USDA’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program which was in the 2008 Farm Bill. This program allows farmers to improve their land through better grasses and habitat, and at the same time allowing hunters access to these lands.
One concern I hear again and again is how much actual funding gets to the farmers from the 2008 Farm Bill; approximately 80 percent of Farm Bill spending goes to nutrition programs. While we must ensure that no one goes hungry in Colorado, we must also ensure that those farmers have the necessary resources so that we never have a food shortage in this country.
Finally, any future farm bills must ensure a strong safety net in order for family farms to succeed and thrive in Colorado.
CD 4 Gardner
Continued efforts in renewable energy, continued challenge to discover value added opportunities for our commodities. We need to make sure that farmers are allowed to make decisions that best fit their operations and not be forced to operate the way government thinks they should.
CD 5 Lamborn
No response for this question.
CD 5 Bradley
Positive aspects of the 2008 Farm Bill for Colorado farmers are: funding for specialty crops, a renewable energy title, permanent disaster relief, and increased funding for conservation programs for farmers and ranchers. Small farmers are still at a disadvantage relative to large corporate interests and the challenge of keeping family farms viable is very real.
CD 6 Coffman
The problem with the Farm Bill 2008 were the unnecessary political inclusions that didn’t necessarily help farmers. The safety net programs are a plus.
CD 6 Flerlage
Positive aspects of the bill include the Conservation Reserve Program and disaster assistance.
CD 7 Perlmutter
Safety net programs such as crop insurance and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) disaster program are important components of federal farm policy. These programs were designed to cushion the boom and bust cycles inherent in the agricultural business. This helps not just farmers but all Americans who benefit from a consistently safe and affordable food supply. As Congress begins early work on the 2012 Farm Bill I am committed to ensure these programs are maintained to meet the needs of Colorado farmers and ranchers who rely on them.
QUESTION 3: EPA is looking at replacing the current dust standard of 150 micrograms per cubic meter with a standard of between 65 and 85 per cubic meter — essentially cutting in half the amount of particulate matter allowed in the air. What affect would these new EPA regulations have on agriculture?
U.S. SENATE Bennet
To protect public health and the air we breathe, EPA is required to review standards for particulate matter in the air. Currently, EPA is considering revising this standard, but is still in the middle of the process. We’ll have to see all of the details of EPA’s proposal before we know if it would affect agriculture in Colorado. Fortunately for our state, Colorado gets high marks for recent data on air quality standards for coarse particulate matter, with no counties exceeding the daily limit. If EPA releases a revised proposal, it will be important to provide the agency with feedback from local communities on how the revised standards affect Colorado’s agriculture.
U.S. SENATE Buck
Only in Washington would someone think it’s a good idea to regulate dust. Colorado is a semi-arid state, and when the wind blows, dust sometimes is kicked up. What good possibly could come from regulating dust on farms? This is yet another example of the disconnect between D.C. and the West. As a Senator from rural Colorado, I’ll push back against out-of-touch Washington regulations.
CD 1 DeGette
Coarse particulate matter exposure, which includes exposure to dust, can have serious health effects such as damaging breathing and respiratory systems. EPA is required to periodically review its air quality standards for coarse particulate matter, but it has not made any proposal for a new standard or how it would implement such a standard, so it is too soon to speculate what impact a potential regulation might have.
CD 1 Fallon
This is an example of overreaching regulation. It would make U.S. farms and small businesses less competitive by creating burdensome regulation. Also, in a state like Colorado, that is already water-strapped, such measures (like those seen taken by Maricopa Co., Ariz.) could further strain the water supply.
CD 2 Polis
Well, let’s be clear that there is a difference between the EPA examining something and the EPA actually changing policy, and right now they are just examining options. The EPA is required by law to review its standards for air quality every five years and this review is a normal occurrence. This year, however, there’s added contention as the issue is being used as an example of the overreach of government in a highly contentious election year. The fact of the matter is that these standards aren’t just being reviewed for agriculture, but for every kind of air pollution across the board, and particulate matter is one area where changes are being considered. For Colorado, particulate matter not originating from agriculture is a critical issue, as last year many of us saw a drastic increase in the red dust covering our mountain snow which makes it melt faster and leaves us hurting for water even more than we normally do. No one, especially farmers, wants to be faced with less water than we already have. These standards also benefit our rural communities where agriculture and oil and gas have come face to face and families have to deal with the health consequences of both dust and chemical pollution from the local oil and gas boom.
This is a nuanced issue and the EPA needs to develop a nuanced answer if they don’t want to face congressional challenges. I hope that they take to heart the concerns that have been raised by our agriculture community, and I believe they will as the majority of Senators and Representatives on both sides of the isle are watching them to ensure that a nuanced and reasonable solution is the end result.
CD 2 Bailey
It is going to negatively impact agriculture because the time that you plow is not when it’s all mucked and muddied up, but when it’s dry and dusty. To mitigate the amount of dust in the air is going to be dependent on higher costs. Imagine the cost of putting a mechanism on a tractor to spray the surrounding air as you’re plowing fields to mitigate dust in the air. What problem is this solving? Most people move to rural areas for better air quality. An occasional amount of dust during plowing season needs to be something residents just need to tolerate.
CD 3 Salazar
I respect the EPA’s role to protect our environment, but we need to proceed with caution so we don’t adversely affect Colorado farmers and ranchers. Drastically reducing particulate matter will have a major impact on agriculture in Colorado. Dust from plowing your field or herding cattle is already currently regulated by the EPA and I’m not sure now is the time to add more bureaucracy when so many Colorado farmers and ranchers are working hard to make ends meet and put food on our tables.
CD 4 Markey
I represent a diverse district with a vibrant and productive agriculture industry in Northern and Eastern Colorado. The prosperity of the United States was built on America’s farmers and ranchers. They are the lifeblood of this country and the breadbasket of the world. It is vital that domestic food production continues to flourish. Maintaining our domestic food supply is not only an important aspect of our national heritage, but of our national security.
I am concerned that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) actions regarding a standard of 65-85 µg/m3 for National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Particulate Matter (PM) will unfairly impact the Agricultural Sector. Simply put, dust is a natural byproduct of agriculture. Measures to mitigate dust production in agriculture are not well-known and could disrupt agricultural markets. Also, many of my constituents have expressed concerns that the science behind this decision is not accepted. Other, less costly, investments may improve our nation’s air quality and health.
My primary concerns on this standard are the cost of the change and the science behind it. I am not aware of a thorough cost/benefit analysis. I would request that this analysis, in combination with a National Academy of Sciences review of the scientific data, be performed prior to implementation of the rule. This rule change will likely impact small farmers disproportionately who lack the resources to effectively implement dust controls.
Agricultural producers in Colorado’s Fourth Congressional District face the traditional battles against Mother Nature and commodity markets, increased competition for water resources, battling invasive species and pests, a drain of young talent, hotter and longer summers, increased input costs and population growth along the Front Range. Adding dust mitigation to this already overwhelming list of challenges strikes me as unfair and arbitrary. Also, the USDA has programs to encourage low-till, no-till, and conservation reserve programs that may be able to accomplish the EPA’s goals with less disruption.
CD 4 Gardner
These new regulations will adversely affect agriculture. The EPA is reaching too far. And in case they haven’t noticed there is a lot of dirt involved in agriculture.
CD 5 Lamborn
I am concerned with the new EPA dust standards. To this end, I recently signed on to a letter to EPA Administrator Jackson regarding the proposed standards that, if enacted, will be the most stringent and unparalleled regulation of dust in our nations’ history. Furthermore, I feel as though these regulations are imposed to negatively impact rural areas in particular.
CD 5 Bradley
They would add to the challenges facing farmers and ideally, foster innovation while improving air quality.
CD 6 Coffman
I sent a letter to the EPA protesting this. They are using urban standards that are just not applicable to rural life. This kind of standard has resulted in farmers having to use water sprayers to just drive down a dirt road so as to keep the dust down. It would be unacceptable and ridiculous to simply deem agriculture non-compliant with clean air standards.
CD 6 Flerlage
The EPA standards were developed from studies based on particulate effects on human health only. Practical and economic effects must be considered before implementation of new standards on farmers.
CD 7 Perlmutter
Protecting our air quality is very important. We can balance air quality with protecting rural economic development. Dust is a natural product of agricultural activity during livestock production, operating harvesting equipment, or simply driving down a gravel road. The EPA’s proposal of new standards for dust pollution would be the most stringent in history. I will monitor any possible burden on small and large farms whose efforts to meet the new standard could be costly.