US Senator Gardner Discusses Colorado Farm Tour on Senate Floor
“Growing up in Eastern Plains and still living in the heartland of Colorado agriculture, I have a deep appreciation for how vital the agricultural community is for the Centennial State.”
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) spoke on the floor of the United States Senate this week about his Farm Tour on Colorado’s Eastern Plains.
“Growing up in Eastern Plains and still living in the heartland of Colorado agriculture, I have a deep appreciation for how vital the agricultural community is for the Centennial State,” said Senator Gardner. “In Colorado, the ag community accounts for more than 170,000 jobs and is responsible for more than $40 billion in economic activity. My annual Farm Tour is an excellent opportunity to hear directly from the farmers, ranchers, and growers who provide food and fiber for the world. I want to thank everyone who participated in my Farm Tour this year and shared ideas and opportunities on how we can work together to strengthen Colorado’s agriculture industry.”
Remarks as delivered:
Thank you, Mr. President. I thank my colleague from Montana for his comments on the USMCA. I come to the floor today to talk about a Farm Tour that I have done every year that I’ve been in the Senate. This is a tradition that started when I was in the House of Representatives with the wheat growers in Colorado, where we’d go around the 4th Congressional District talking about those issues that matter to our farmers in the wheat business. Colorado’s 4th Congressional District raises the vast majority of wheat in the state of Colorado, and about 87% of that wheat gets exported.
And so Senator Daines’ comments on USMCA and what that means for eastern Colorado are incredibly important, and I hope that is a bipartisan effort that we can all get behind in the House and the Senate. Of course, it has to start in the House and we need the House to act as quickly as possible because those wheat farmers in eastern Colorado need the certainty of new markets. The cattlemen in Colorado need the certainty of new markets and existing markets, and that’s exactly what the USMCA will do. And so I commend my colleague for his words on the USMCA.
So over the last several weeks, last several months, I’ve been participating in this annual Colorado Farm Tour that I undertake every year with not only my staff but producers from across Colorado. It’s in conjunction with a number of organizations in Colorado like the Colorado Farm Bureau, the Colorado Wheat Growers, Corn Growers, Cattlemen and others who all come together to show us every aspect of Colorado agriculture – from the production itself, to the actual processing and finishing of agricultural products.
We drove hundreds and hundreds of miles across the state of Colorado, starting in Greeley at a cheese making plant where almost all of the milk that’s produced in Colorado, Colorado being one of the highest milk-producing states in the country, goes into cheese that every American gets to enjoy. Whether it’s Domino’s Pizza or Papa John’s Pizza, that cheese most likely comes from Colorado. This is a great opportunity on this tour to connect all four corners of Colorado and the work that we do in agriculture to hear their concerns.
We ended the Farm Tour at the state fair in Pueblo. What was particularly special about this year’s Farm Tour was being joined by the Colorado Farm Bureau and the fact that it’s the 100th year anniversary of the Colorado Farm Bureau, and so congratulations to the Colorado Farm Bureau. We’ll be talking about that more over the next several months, but congratulations on this very historic anniversary, and thank you so much for joining this tour and making it happen once again.
As Members of Congress, all of us are used to discussing policy topics, but keeping farming and ranching at the forefront, keeping rural America at the forefront of those discussions is critically important because we need to focus specifically on those issues facing our farming and ranching communities.
In Colorado, the ag community accounts for more than 170,000 jobs and is responsible for more than $40 billion in economic activity. It’s one of the largest economic drivers in our state – a state that has been transformed by energy jobs and high-tech aerospace jobs – agriculture remains one of the highest job sectors in the state. But even though it’s so vital to our state, we know how much of a struggle it has been in agriculture over the last several years. According to the Department of Agriculture, 2019 farm income is projected to be down 49 percent from its peak in 2013. Over the past six years, we have seen a nearly 50 percent drop in farm income. Debt held by our farmers and ranchers is at $409 billion this year. That’s up from $385 billion the year before. There is a significant worry in the heartland about what is happening to our agricultural communities and the future of farming and ranching in this country.
One way to immediately help, to provide solutions to solve this problem for farmers and ranchers is to make sure that we implement the 2018 Farm Bill programs as quickly and as expeditiously as we can and that we resolve outstanding trade disputes, that we pass the USMCA, that we resolve the trade dispute with China so we can continue to open up new markets, develop new markets, and thrive with existing markets.
When an industry that accounts for nearly 11 percent of our nation’s employment is struggling, like agriculture is, we simply can’t wait any longer to provide help. We must act now to put the ag community back on the path to sustainability so that not only current generations of farmers and ranchers can continue in operation, but that new generations of farmers and ranchers can come back to Colorado, to North Dakota, and to states across this country to make sure they have bright futures in ag.
But even in the face of difficult times, we saw on this tour how farmers and ranchers are innovating and how they are looking to address new markets to increase their incomes, opening up new markets through the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, whether that’s a trade agreement with ASEAN or Taiwan. Another example is the clean energy opportunities that our farmers have embraced.
On one of the stops during the tour, we visited a farm in eastern Colorado near Limon, Colorado to talk about what wind production means for that rancher. The farm, at least the land, the area to Xcel energy, which is Colorado’s largest investor-owned utility, to install wind turbines which provide them an alternative source of income. Another rancher in the county had talked about how they may earn as much as $5,000 per turbine for the wind operations on their ranch. Now you think about it, this farmer had 20 turbines on his land. That’s $5,000 times 20. That’s $100,000 in income that this farmer would not have otherwise had. Farm income is down 50%. Farm debt has increased. This wind production, with a very small footprint, may be the difference between keeping an operation this year and next year, and we have to welcome that kind of a diversified agriculture opportunity.
Another example of diversified income for agricultural producers is in Springfield, Colorado, the far southeastern area of the state, we visited a hemp processing plant. This chamber has done great work when it comes to hemp, a new value-added opportunity for farmers and ranchers in Colorado. When this facility, this hemp processing plant is fully up and running, they’re hoping to employ around 50 people. Now when we went to this facility, millions of dollars of equipment being invested in a very small town, the employees will have a shop, gym, recreational facilities, and they’re going to build a lake there. And 50 employees in Springfield, I remember asking one of the county commissioners who was on the tour with us in Baca County, “Did you ever imagine the day when one business would bring 50 employees to Springfield?” And the answer was very quick, “No, never at all.” This is an incredible opportunity not only for the farmers in the area, but also the community that will now benefit from 50 good-paying jobs with benefits.
That’s just one other source of revenue that we can achieve. We also had the opportunity to visit the agriculture research service station in Akron, Colorado, where they’re doing tremendous research on dry land oilseeds and new technologies. One of the things we talked about is how we can make it more effective to produce dry land crops, how we can make oilseed opportunities available for additional value-added opportunities in the area.
We also had opportunities on the Farm Tour to talk about mental health needs and what’s happening in our communities. At too many stops during the Farm Tour, I heard about the impact that our struggling ag economy is having on mental health on farmers and ranchers. A 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found agricultural workers have a higher suicide rate than any other occupation. When we passed the Farm Bill in 2018, we also included language called the FARMERS FIRST Act, which will help create mental health opportunities for those involved in agriculture to help make sure we have suicide assistance and prevention training for mental health assistance and suicide prevention efforts for farm advocates to help create support groups and reestablish the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. That needs to be something we all talk about back home to our agriculture community because they have provided food and fiber for this country and certainly the world. We need to make sure we’re supporting them in every way.
We also talked about how we saw a nearly 40 percent increase in admissions for meth addiction in Colorado between 2011 and 2018. While we talk a lot about opioid addictions in this country, it’s actually meth that our sheriffs are most concerned about in our rural areas. And so while we address the opioid epidemic, we also have to be giving and providing new tools and resources to deal with the addiction scourge of methamphetamines. Alarmingly, a significant number of that meth is coming into Colorado from basically industrial-scale manufacturing facilities, sophisticated operations in Mexico and China, and we need to make sure that we disrupt those operations. So we need to advocate more for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program and the Anti-Methamphetamine Taskforce to help law enforcement prevent cartels from getting these kinds of drugs into the country and continue to work on programs like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration focus on recovery resources and prevention.
Everywhere we went on the Farm Tour we heard about the labor shortage, whether it was the cheese making facility or whether it was the ranch or the hospitals that we visited on the Farm Tour, they talked about the need for labor. So we need a guest worker program that meets the needs of labor in this country. Housing issues seem to be something that we don’t talk about when it comes to our rural areas. We talk a lot about it when it comes to the Denvers, and mountain communities, and resort communities, but our rural areas are facing housing shortages and needs as well. And so we’re working on legislation out of this Farm Tour to help focus our labor and housing shortage needs. I’ve talked about trade and the opportunities we have with trade, to open up new markets, to resolve current trade issues, and we need to continue to work on that.
Mr. President, while the agriculture community is currently facing very serious issues, I want to be clear that our farmers and ranchers are as strong as ever. Growing up on the Eastern Plains of Colorado, still living in the heartland of Colorado agriculture, I’ve always observed the incredible positive impacts that agriculture has on our communities, our rural communities, and our urban centers as well. When the federal government gets out of the way of farmers, and ranchers, and growers and allows good things to happen, that’s when our rural communities grow and thrive.
A couple of weeks ago, we had the opportunity to celebrate National Farmers Day. It was a day to celebrate the great community that has always been the backbone of this nation. But we could never express all our thanks of the industry into simply one day of the year. And so to all of our farmers and ranchers, to those who make our breakfast, lunch, and dinners possible, providing abundant food and fiber for this country, this world, I’m grateful for them and look forward to continuing to work on new solutions and bigger opportunities in the years to come. Mr. President, I yield the floor.
Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy