As a former state legislator and friend once told me, "Mark, if you eat, you're in agriculture." Truer words were never spoken, and I have always kept them in mind. From the orchards and open ranges on the Western Slope to the dairies, farms and ranches on the Eastern Plains our farms and ranches are a critical part of Colorado's economy and identity. Coloradans in our rural communities have a keen interest in federal policies that affect the development of rural towns and support the work of Colorado’s farmers and ranchers. Agriculture policy not only affects what we eat, it also protects against the inherent risk that producers assume as they operate at the will of Mother Nature – and that helps ensure the vibrancy of rural America.
Renewable Energy and Agriculture
Bioenergy developed from farm waste and other sources, along with energy harnessed from the wind, hold exceptional promise for farmers and ranchers looking for potential new sources of income. While many people will benefit indirectly from the clean air, energy security, and economic growth generated by wind power development and bioenergy, farmers can benefit directly. Renewable energy production can provide farmers with an important economic boost, helping them keep their land in agriculture while contributing to America’s energy independence.
Conservation and Keeping Farm Land in Agriculture
As chairman of the U.S. Senate National Parks Subcommittee and as an avid outdoorsman, I am also keenly aware of the importance of land conservation in agriculture and the value of conservation programs administered by the USDA to farmers and ranchers. The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency currently administer over 20 voluntary programs and subprograms to farmers and ranchers who want to implement conservation practices on their agricultural land. These programs provide incentives and technical assistance for conservation practices that not only help farmers produce better yields and improve farm income, but also enhance habitat for wildlife, protect wetlands and critical water resources, help to improve soil management and reduce the environmental impact of on-farm activities. It is important that we look for ways to make these programs work better for farmers and ranchers, while making certain they continue to serve a valuable purpose in fostering strong stewardship of the land.
As Colorado continues to battle a prolonged drought, our communities need accurate and reliable data to plan for changes in water availability. The Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program manually collects snowpack data so water managers can plan thoughtfully for changing water supply realities. Accurate water supply forecasting is crucial for success in agriculture and for keeping our communities and small businesses strong. That's why I urged Undersecretary Robert Bonnie of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fully fund Colorado's manual snow course sites and pursue smart planning to keep the sites operating in future years.
Pinon Canyon is vitally important to Colorado's ranchers, soldiers, and economy. But for many years, southeastern Colorado's ranchers have been concerned that the Army might have plans to expand the training site beyond its current boundaries. After many months of work with Army leaders and members of the southeastern Colorado community, I was proud to bring together local leaders and Assistant Secretary of the Army Katherine Hammack to chart a way forward that will ensure Fort Carson's soldiers and local ranchers each have the certainty they need to move forward. At my request, Assistant Secretary Hammack made it clear that the Army will take steps to withdraw its land-acquisition waiver. I will continue my efforts to ensure that our ranchers can rest assured that their land is safe, while protecting the land our soldiers need to train.
I led a bipartisan effort to urge the Senate Agriculture Committee to include permanent livestock disaster assistance programs in the 2013 Farm Bill. Ranchers across the country need access to a strong and permanent safety net in light of the severe ongoing drought affecting much of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West. Disaster assistance programs have been critical in supporting ranchers, but without permanent legislation, these programs currently are in constant jeopardy of not being able to meet needs. A robust and permanent livestock disaster assistance program will give Colorado cattle operators and ranchers the security they need to continue to boost local economies and feed the nation.
Colorado's dairy farmers deserve to have a fair shot at expanded market opportunities for American dairy products abroad. I signed a bipartisan letter, led by Senators Schumer and Crapo, to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative asking them to carefully consider the needs of the U.S. dairy industry as they help grow U.S. exports by negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The bipartisan letter was signed by 36 senators.
The two most devastating Colorado fires this season, High Park and Waldo Canyon, burned more than 100,000 acres and led to the catastrophic loss of property and regrettably loss of life. Now as Coloradans pick up the pieces, the burned and barren areas present an additional threat. Without site rehabilitation and restoration, the watersheds that provide municipal and agricultural water supplies are at risk from landslides, flooding and erosion, which could result in serious infrastructure damage, water supply disruptions and even loss of life. This is why I filed an amendment to funding legislation that would provide additional emergency funds for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. This program provides funding and technical support to restore and stabilize soil in critical watersheds in the aftermath of severe wild fires and other natural disasters, such as floods and hurricanes - which is also important to many Americans in our coastal states. Though my amendment was not included, I will continue to fight to protect critical watersheds across our state and won't stop until Colorado receives the support we desperately need.