U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet visited the Arkansas Valley in Rocky Ford last Thursday morning to celebrate the Farm Bill and to share information about the final bill, as well as discuss agriculture priorities for the future.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet visited the Arkansas Valley in Rocky Ford last Thursday morning to celebrate the Farm Bill and to share information about the final bill, as well as discuss agriculture priorities for the future. Several area farmers and ranchers attended the meeting, including those from Bent County.
Bennett expressed pride in the savings introduced by the bill, in that the direct payment program has been stopped, and crop insurance strengthened. Discounts for new farmers are introduced and benefits extended for farmers facing disastrous situations such as the cantaloupe panic which affected local farmers. Farm Service Manager Chuck Hanagan later hailed the support for livestock ranchers to be a major feature of the bill, giving support where there has been none for two years.
The Farm Bill is a five year bill, coauthored by four Democrats and four Republicans. Bennet said that any discord which occurred was over regional issues, not political partisanship. Labor policy infractions are still enforced by the Department of Labor, but administration of farm labor matters is now handled by the Department of Agriculture.
On the subject of immigration, Bennett said he is still working to support the interests of the Colorado farmers. Holdouts on the immigration bill have no excuses, in his opinion. Much expense and attention has been given to building a fence, hiring extra border patrol, patrolling the region, money which might better have been expended on improving ports of entry and hiring pickers, said Bennet. The increase in expense was from $8 million to $46 million. The immigration bill is now hung up in the House by representatives who consider compromise evil, continued Bennet, suggesting the non-compromisers have chosen the wrong profession. He feels that House Leader Boehner favors passage of a bill which would allow workers and other longtime residents a workable path to citizenship.
Bennet's first question came from Mark Bartolo, manager of the Colorado State University Experimental Farm located near Rocky Ford. Bartolo said the agriculture industry is over-regulated to the point that farmers are beginning to (1) comply and keep going, (2) ignore what they consider unreasonable, or (3) contemplate retirement, divided about equally. Bennet answered that the amount of regulation is probably impractical, citing his experience as a school superintendent. By the time a bright idea that sounded good had gone through Congress and returned to the classroom, it often made very little sense. He suggested not to complain in general, but to single out items, perhaps listing them, that are most unreasonable or unenforceable, so that they can be targeted. He suggested a list of 10 to 15 items with which to start.
Jennifer Wells of the CSU Extension office in Rocky Ford brought up the responsibility of consumers. Contamination can occur anywhere on the road from the farm to the market, and common sense dictates one should wash produce before eating it.
Research is an important area of concern in farming. Bennet referred to great advisers "in this room" on the subject of crops, organics, irrigation, etc. At the beginning of the program, he referred to the CSU Experimental Farm as "the place where I learned all I know about farming." Another place was the 24 or so meetings he held with farmers all over the state.
An important aspect of the Farm Bill for areas like ours, which is rich in farmland and poor in cash, is to allow farmers and ranchers to use their land instead of coming up with cash to form a conservation easement.
Jolly Rose brought up the subject of hemp cultivation and whether it would have restrictions lifted. Bennet said they were working on it, and it seemed to him that Colorado and Kentucky, the two states pushing for hemp cultivation, had little else in common.
Commissioner Tobe Allenbaugh of Crowley County spoke up for senior citizens in the area, expressing the hope that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would not be weakened. Several spoke sharp criticism of the Social Security office in La Junta for closing at noon. Bennet said a similar situation had existed in the western part of the state and that a satellite office had been opened. Commissioner Frank Grant, also of Crowley County, pointed out that some senior citizens do not like to transact business solely on a computer.
Bennet continued that some adjustment of the systems would eventually have to be made, but that it would not affect the current retirees. He said only 17 percent of the federal budget went to matters that affect everybody, such as the Farm Bill and Homeland Security, 18 percent goes to the military, and over 50 percent goes to entitlements. He is proud of the saving of $23 billion in mandatory federal spending brought about by the Farm Bill of 2014.