U.S. Senator Bennet’s Farm Bill Floor Speech Highlights Family Farm Alliance President Pat O’Toole’s Ladder Ranch
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resources, today delivered remarks following Senate passage of the 2018 Farm Bill conference report. Senator Bennet’s opening remarks regarding Alliance President Patrick O’Toole’s Ladder Ranch are included below.
The Family Farm Alliance supports the federal farm bill adopted today by the U.S. Senate, and urges similar rapid passage of the legislation by the House of Representatives. The farm bill includes several provisions that will assist Western agricultural irrigators, including:
- Expanded authority under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for irrigation districts – for the first time ever – to receive funding as direct applicants for water conservation measures.
- Improved contracting for partners engaged in work with producers, which is intended to be streamlined and made more effective under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
- Preserved existing authorization structure and mandatory funding for the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act, a flexible and useful program utilized by Western water managers.
The Family Farm Alliance supports the federal farm bill adopted today by the U.S. Senate, and urges similar rapid passage of the legislation by the House.
“A few months ago, I had the chance to go up to the Colorado-Wyoming border to spend a night at the Ladder Ranch. It’s a beautiful property, situated in the Little Snake River Valley. If you were designing a postcard for the American West, you’d struggle to do better than this place.
The ranch is owned by Pat and Sharon O’Toole. It’s been with the family for six generations, dating all the way back to 1881. To give you a sense of how long ago that was, at the time, the state of Colorado was just five years old. The Ottoman Empire was still around.
Our world has transformed since then. But the Ladder Ranch has endured through the Depression, the Dust Bowl, through two World Wars, and the transformation in our economy. And, of course, that didn’t just happen by chance. It happened because the family looked ahead and made hard choices to deliver that ranch from generation to generation. Pat and Sharon are continuing that legacy today, and they’re joined on the ranch by their daughters and their son and a whole bunch of grandkids.
I’m sharing the story of Ladder Ranch, because in many ways, it’s the story of farmers and ranchers across my state and across the country – of people applying their ingenuity and common sense to hand more opportunity to the next generation. And one of the privileges of representing a state like Colorado is that I’ve had the opportunity to learn about places like Ladder Ranch and the legacy every one of our farms and ranches represent.
When I joined the Senate Agriculture Committee, the truth is that I had no idea how hard it can be for our farmers and ranchers. Like many people, I had very little appreciation for where our food comes from, and knowing that, if you’re in agriculture, you can do everything right and still fall behind because of forces beyond your control.
And today, our farmers and ranchers are facing tremendous uncertainty. They’ve got persistent drought and threats of wildfire, which are going worse due to climate change. They’ve got low commodity prices and challenges with finding people that can work because of our immigration debate here in Washington. And now, on top of all of that, they’ve got the confusion of the existing trade policies of the United States.
Two weeks ago, the USDA announced that farm incomes are projected to drop 12 percent this year. When you add it all up – all the uncertainty up, the policy up, the politics up – farm incomes are going to be down 12 percent this year. All of this acts like a weight on our farmers and ranchers, making it even harder for them to pass on the legacy of their work to the next generation.
Earlier this year, our Ag Commissioner in Colorado, Don Brown, who is himself one of the most successful farmers in our state, said, “You’re only 22 once.” And by that he meant, there’s an entire generation out there deciding whether or not to pursue a career on the family farm or ranch. And they’re looking at all this uncertainty, and a lot of them are deciding that it’s not worth it. That’s why the average age of farmers is what it is in the United States.
We owe it to our farmers and ranchers to provide consistency where we can, and to help preserve the legacy of American agriculture for years to come.
By passing the 2018 Farm Bill, that’s exactly what we’ve done.”