DENVER—More than 40 Farmers Union members from throughout Colorado participated in Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) annual legislative drive-in at the state capitol, Feb. 5. The event enables family farmers and ranchers to talk one-on-one with members of the Legislature about how proposed legislation will impact their operations and their rural communities.
“As the state suffers from the worst drought in history, it is important that agricultural producers be able to tell their stories and express their concerns about the survival of rural communities to those who will be making laws that impact them,” said John Stencel, RMFU president.
Water was, by far, the biggest topic of conversation. “I guess what we’d all like to know is how the Colorado Legislature is going to make it rain,” said Ernie New, an organic potato, vegetable and beef producer from the San Luis Valley.
Represented at the drive-in were farmers from northeastern Colorado, who pending a decision from the Colorado Supreme Court, may have to cease use of their wells for irrigation. Several voiced the opinion that shutting down their wells would not increase available water for other farmers. They also said that the wells were part of what they purchased when they bought their farm ground.
“The frustration with water legislation is that few of the bills do anything to significantly change the water problem,” Stencel said. “Although the Legislature cannot make it rain, they can pass laws to repair existing water storage facilities and develop new multi-purpose reservoirs in the mountains. Of course, the other issue with farmers is that their resources are so stretched due to past low commodity prices that one year of drought will force many of them out of business.”
On a more positive note was the discussion of alternative energy development in rural areas. RMFU favors a measure that will soon be introduced by House Speaker Lola Spradley. The renewable energy standard (RES) would require that an increasing amount of energy come from renewable sources. Both Minnesota and Texas have similar measures, which are beneficial to rural communities and to the environment.
“There is no reason not to have a renewable energy standard,” said Spradley in addressing the RMFU members. “Sometimes just a little extra (financial) help (from wind turbines or other forms of energy generation) is enough.”
The group also discussed the health care bills being debated. RMFU opposes most of the measures that are aimed at reducing benefits or greatly increasing costs to policyholders. “These bills will only increase the number of people who are uninsured,” Stencel said.
Also of concern to Colorado farmers and ranchers are the state budget cuts, which are threatening the Colorado Department of Agriculture. “This department, which represents one of Colorado’s largest business sectors, is of vital importance to rural communities and to all of Colorado,” Stencel said.