It may sound corny, but watermelons are a blast for farmer Greg Brophy

Rural statesman combines love of the land with legislating

By Anthony Bowe
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

No crop on state Sen. Greg Brophy’s farm — not his corn covering 220 acres, or the wheat, alfalfa or dry edible beans that he sometimes grows — is as joy inspiring as his juicy watermelons.

A week-long watermelon harvest in August paves way for a traditional September campaign fundraising event at Brophy’s farm 20 miles north of Wray in Yuma County. Called the “Blast n’ Bike Ride,” the two day annual event, held Sept. 23 and 24 this year, combines a couple of Brophy’s favorite pastimes: bike riding and gun shooting.

For one day, Brophy’s watermelons aren’t valued for their sweet flavor as much as their splatter trajectory from gun fire by AR-15 rifles and several pistols.

Corn is state Sen. Greg Brophy’s central crop, covering 220 acres. He sometimes grows watermelon, wheat, alfalfa and dry edible beans on his farm 20 miles north of Wray. State Sen. Greg Brophy on his farm.
Sen. Brophy said he answers e-mails and phone calls regarding legislative matters while working on his tractor. When in session, he can control farm irrigation systems with his cell phone.
The “Blast n’ Bike Ride” fundraiser attracted Senate colleagues Scott Renfroe and Ted Harvey, who joined in blasting Brophy’s watermelons with rifles and pistols.

“Everyone who comes raves about how much fun it is to blast melons. Plus for cyclists, it’s pretty cool to ride in three states on the same ride or travel roads that have very little traffic and talk politics,” said Brophy, the 44-year-old Republican from Senate District 1, which includes the rural counties of Cheyenne, Elbert, Kiowa, Kit Carson, Lincoln, Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Prowers, Sedgwick, Washington and Yuma.

About 20 people partook in the watermelon blast this summer, including fellow Senate Republicans Ted Harvey and Scott Renfroe, and state House candidate Chris Holbert of HD 44. The bike portion took Brophy and his friends on a three-hour ride to Beecher Island Battleground and back to his farm through Kansas and Nebraska.

Brophy calls the Blast n’ Bike Ride a “FUNdraiser.” But to him, it’s another way to get General Assembly colleagues to his farm in order to illustrate agriculture issues first hand.

“It’s a continual education process. Unless you live the farm enterprise everyday, you’re never going to understand it like those who do it,” Brophy said. “The job for me and for the people who represent farm organizations is to build relationships with other legislators so that when you come to them and tell them how something is going to impact the farm or the ranch, you gain credibility with them and they take your word for it.”

Brophy’s leadership on the Eastern Plains prompted American Constitution Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo to suggest his name recently as his choice to head up the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

Tancredo said Brophy would help bring technical expertise and experience to the cabinet position and would restore balance and common sense to resource management in the state.

Brophy said he was honored by Tancredo’s decision to have him lead the department overseeing wildlife, energy, and water among other natural resources.

If Tancredo wins election and Brophy officially becomes head of the department, he said his first task would be to “undo all the damage done by the Ritter administration” to the energy industry.

“They’ve done a billion little things that make it harder to do business in Colorado even before they passed the job killing rules that they passed,” Brophy said.

Some local farm issues of concern to Brophy, a member of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, include unnecessary regulations enforced by the state’s Department of Agriculture and impending regulatory threats from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Humane Society of the U.S.

As a fiscal conservative Brophy is against any regulation that inhibits the flow of business, but state enforcement on farm pesticide applications goes too far, he said. According to law, farmers must track pesticide use for their crops. The Department of Agriculture then checks the farmer’s log books, which Brophy said can result in fines over booking errors and may even cause some farmers to alter their books.

“It costs us money. It costs us a lot of time to keep the paperwork up to date in a centralized location. And then it wastes the day or so when the inspector comes to check how good we are at filling out paperwork,” he said. “It doesn’t really have an impact on how we apply pesticides”

Several industries are regulated in similar methods, including truck drivers, he said.

Also imminent is the threat of EPA regulations on dust, which have been seriously considered for years. Brophy said the only way to avoid such regulations as a farmer would simply mean not working.

However, the largest threat facing farm economy, Brophy said, is the Humane Society of the U.S.

“I believe their ultimate end goal is to end animal agriculture,” he said.

A ballot initiative brought by the Humane Society and passed in California in 2008 is already harming business in Colorado, Brophy said. The initiative, called Proposition 2, banned confinement livestock operations in California, meaning animals must be able to stand, lie down and turn around in their pens or cages. A similar bill signed by Gov. Bill Ritter in 2008 bans gestation crates and veal crates.

However if the Humane Society got its way, Brophy said, a ballot initiative would make it so farmers “wouldn’t be able to grow your own eggs using modern techniques, or hogs or maybe even dairy cows in Colorado,” Brophy said. “(Businesses) want to expand egg growing operations in Colorado but are afraid to make investments here because the ballot initiative process is so wide open and they are afraid the Humane Society will run a constitutional ballot initiative banning confinement livestock techniques.”

The confinement hog and cattle industry employs approximately 1,000 workers in three counties in Brophy’s district, he said.

That’s “$15 million worth of annual purchases of grain crops, electricity and fuel, and other supplies right there in the area to support part of economy and HSUS wants to end it,” he said.

The Brophy family began purchasing land in Wray in 1920 when the lawmaker’s great grandmother, Julia Brophy, bought a homestead there. Their ownership has grown to 1,500 acres and has been passed down to Brophy over four generations.

“We’ll never sell it,” he said.

Brophy collectively owns the land with several of his siblings, but only his dad David, 80, and sister Lisa, 46, still work on the land, running and managing cattle. The senator does most of the farm work, even with the legislative session taking five months out of the year. Corn, his central crop, is sold as livestock feed.

“In the summer the farm takes most of my time — two-thirds of my time. In the fall in September and October it kind of melds together and starts switching around to where legislative activities start taking up two-thirds to maybe 85 percent of my time,” Brophy explains.

During the legislative session, Brophy’s dad becomes his eyes and ears. Brophy said he could still control irrigation on the farm from the capitol in Denver with his cell phone.

The only agriculture bill Brophy could confirm that’s on the horizon for the 2011 session is one regarding milk safety. He said he’s still awaiting more details, but he estimates it would have something to do with how people use loopholes to sell or purchase unpasteurized milk.

He said he wouldn’t be surprised if several bills regarding water rights are introduced too.

Brophy is very optimistic about the future of the agriculture business. Currently farmers, including Brophy, are benefiting from soaring corn prices. However, Brophy expects business to increase over the next few decades due to an increasing world population and alternative energy development.

If the world’s population continues to grow at its current pace to top 10 billion people by 2050, Brophy said the onus would fall on the agriculture industry to feed everybody.

“We have to produce as much food in the next 40 years to feed those people as we have produced I think it’s in the last 4,000 years. I think we’re going to need as much production as we can possibly lay our hands on just to feed everybody,” he said. “I’m kind of excited about the prospects of that. If you farm it will probably be profitable for quite a while going forward here.”

With modern developments in plant breeding, frost and drought tolerant crops could “significantly expand the acreage that’s available for the production of food,” said Brophy. “I think we’ll be able to produce enough food to feed the world’s population.”

Brophy already likes what he sees with ethanol fuel production, which is at an all time high in the United States, and he wants more.

“I want to aggressively pursue production of every form of energy we could get here and hopefully it’ll all be affordable and there will be room for them all on the market,” he said.

Answering e-mails and phone calls from his tractor is commonplace, Brophy said. Being contacted by constituents in other districts is also commonplace.

“I just got e-mail from a guy who had an ag property tax related question a week to 10 days ago from Jefferson County,” Brophy said. “He came to me specifically because I was a farmer in the Senate. He bypassed his own representatives because he knew I would understand the issue better. That happens.”

Anthony@coloradostatesman.com