Importance of agriculture highlighted on Ag Day

The Colorado Statesman

The Colorado General Assembly on Wednesday celebrated National Agriculture Week and Colorado Agriculture Day, with a resolution recognizing the contributions of the state’s agriculture industry.

Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, sponsored the resolution, House Joint Resolution 11-1011, and he noted that agriculture is the second largest industry in Colorado. It “depends more on God and the weather than what I do as a farmer or rancher. It’s not just a money-maker; it’s a life style.”

Agriculture is the second largest industry in Colorado. Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, notes that it “depends more on God and the weather than what I do as a farmer or rancher. It’s not just a money-maker; it’s a lifestyle.” Here, Colorado onion grower Rob Sakata adjusts the mic before reading Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proclamation on Colorado Ag Day outside the Capitol on Wednesday.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar addresses the press conference.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Colorado Potato Administration’s Jim Erhlich, backed up by the photo of the girl on the Food Bank of the Rockies truck, explains that his name means “honest, truthful” in German.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
State Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, is a dapper Westerner on this spring-like day.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
The three Colorado Dairy Women distributing their products are Ashley Edstrom of Sugarhill Dairy in Kersey, Elaine Wailes and Georgia Dye.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, comes away with her prize of a baked Colorado potato.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

Sonnenberg also spoke to the importance of water in agriculture, pointing out that agricultural activities use 85 percent of the state’s water “to grow the food, fiber and fuel you depend on…it’s imperative we do things to keep Colorado’s water inside of Colorado so we can continue” to feed Colorado’s citizens and provide its energy.

At noon, legislators and representatives of Colorado’s agriculture industry held a press conference on the west steps of the state Capitol, to celebrate Colorado Ag Day and to read the proclamation from Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The noon conference also featured the presentation of a check for $65,000, representing food and cash donations from the Colorado Ag Council, to five area food banks. The food donations included 130,000 eggs, 40,000 pounds of wheat, 14,000 pounds of onions, and 350 gallons of milk, which will be turned into 250,000 meals.

Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar pointed out that 40 different food commodities are produced in Colorado. Consumers have numerous options when providing nutritious meals for their families and a wealth of local products to choose from, he said. Coloradans treasure its agricultural bounty, and said the governor has said agriculture will be a priority in his administration. Colorado’s challenge, and the nation’s, will be to help feed the global population; in the next 50 years, more food will be needed than in the previous 10,000 years combined, he said.

“Don’t ever buy Idaho potatoes!” said Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, chair of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Schwartz’ district includes the San Luis Valley, which produces much of the state’s potatoes. “Make sure it’s a Colorado potato!”

Representing the U.S. Department of Agriculture, former Sen. Jim Isgar said the Obama administration has put an emphasis on exports, and that in Colorado, $1.65 billion had been exported to other countries from Colorado agriculture, almost $1 billion more than just five years ago.

Those in attendance were then treated to a lunch of ham, roast beef, and egg salad sandwiches, baked potatoes, green chili, and milk, all produced by Colorado farmers and ranchers.

There are more farmers and ranchers in Colorado’s General Assembly than there are in the U.S. House of Representatives. According to Salazar, there are only two farmer/ranchers in the U.S. House. However, in Colorado there are seven legislators who are currently involved in agriculture and several more who have strong agricultural backgrounds.

Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, has about 1,600 sheep on his 900 acres of deeded land, plus land that he uses under permits from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. “It’s too many to take care of and not enough to make a living at,” he joked Wednesday. Brown’s family has been in the sheep and cattle business in Colorado’s Four Corners area going back several generations. He told the House during the presentation of HJR 1011 that farming and ranching are the only things he’s ever done, and when he was elected as a legislator he had to apply for a new Social Security number so he could get paid, since he lost his first one and has never worked for someone else. “I’m nomadic,” Brown said. “I’ve spent half my life in a bedroll,” moving his sheep back and forth between Ignacio and New Mexico.

Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, was involved in his family’s greenhouse operations from 1972 to 2008. The land is now under development, he told The Colorado Statesman. Prior to the greenhouse, his family grew sugar beets, and farming dates back in his family to when his great-great grandfather came to Adams County in the 1880s. Priola also takes care of Ralphie IV, one of the buffaloes that have served as mascots for the University of Colorado. Priola has been involved with Ralphie since his college days, when he was a handler for four years; Ralphie IV is the third of the mascots that he’s been involved with, which also includes Ralphie III and Ralphie V.

Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Alamosa, talked of harvesting potatoes when he was a child in the San Luis Valley. He said he grew up on a small subsistence farm, and his family grew their own food: meat, beans, potatoes and beets.

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, has 125 to 250 pairs of cows and calves on his 3,000-acre ranch, and told The Statesman he was “born into it.” His father came to Colorado in 1939, fleeing the Oklahoma dust bowl.

Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, is downsizing her ranch operation because she faces what many in Colorado agriculture face: children grown up, have left home, and aren’t interested in farming or ranching. She has 300 acres for horses and cattle, and her husband purchases yearlings every year to raise. While Looper’s family has been in farming and ranching for several generations, she and her husband got into it differently — they bought their ranch, and that ranch includes one of the state’s original homesteads.

Sonnenberg’s farm near Sterling has 2,500 acres for corn, wheat, sunflowers and millet, and another 2,500 for 110 pairs of cattle. He also owns a small feed lot.

Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, grew up in Paoli, Ind., on a dairy farm, and first came to Colorado to go hunting in the 1980s. He came to Colorado to work on a ranch in 1994 and took over the ranch operations in 1996, with 31,000 acres on which he raises hay and Natural Black Angus cattle.

The only legislator who claims “cowboy” as an occupation is Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh. McKinley said he has been a cowboy for 66 years. “What else would I be? I had no choice, my mama was a cowgirl, my dad was a cowboy,” he said. McKinley said he takes care of horses and cattle on his ranch, and “I do my part to do no harm to the environment.” As to the size of his ranch and his livestock herd, “it’s as big as my wife can take care of” when he’s at the state capitol.

The only farmer in the Colorado Senate is Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who has 250 acres on which he grows corn and a few acres of watermelon. He also has 1,300 acres of pastureland, where his dad runs cattle.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com