Farmers and ranchers that call Colorado home benefit from a thriving and expanding export market, and the quality of our land, air, and water is unmatched across the nation.
From the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo to the Western National Stock Show held every year in Denver, Colorado has become synonymous with a rich history and culture of American agriculture. Farmers and ranchers that call Colorado home benefit from a thriving and expanding export market, and the quality of our land, air, and water is unmatched across the nation. Making Colorado the best state in the nation for farmers, ranchers, and agriculture businesses to call home will continue to be one of our state’s primary objectives when we take office.
According to the 2017 Colorado Business Economic Outlook, our agriculture exports have grown 375% in the past two decades; in 2014, it supported $1.8 billion in exports and every dollar of exports contributes to nearly $1.40 of economic activity.
But, that same data shows that our agriculture economy has suffered tremendous setbacks in recent years. Cattle prices in Colorado have fallen 21% between 2014 and 2017. Drought is forcing cattle ranchers to sell off their herds and shift to less profitable proteins, a particularly worrying trend given that livestock accounts for 65% of cash revenue in Colorado’s agriculture economy. Additionally, Colorado corn and wheat are at their lowest prices in years. In fact, many Colorado farmers and ranchers have oil wells on their property, and that number is rising due to it being a steady and significant revenue source for private landowners as crops and livestock drop in price.
Our vision for Colorado’s economic future includes ensuring that our agriculture economy remains strong and grows. By increasing collaboration between state agriculture institutions like Colorado State University and the Colorado Department of Agriculture, we can tackle these challenges and make sure that the next generation of farmers and ranchers can envision their own children taking the reins.
“Here is a land where life is written in water…”
Drought is threatening the very livelihood of farmers and ranchers. Less water means less hay, which means smaller herds and crop yields, which means smaller profits and fewer exports. Considering that agriculture comprises nearly 80 percent of our water usage, Colorado needs to take action.
We will put us on a long-term path to sustainably funding and implementing the Colorado Water Plan, and we will limit the use of buy-and-dry and instead increase storage capacity while taking advantage of opportunities provided by alternative transfer methods (ATMs). ATMs prevent farmers and ranchers from being forced to sell their water rights to municipalities, who then dry the land to achieve water conservation. This instead gives farmers and ranchers the opportunity to lease their water while protecting their property rights. This idea is not without controversy; ranchers and farmers who are skeptical of ATMs have every right to be. So, let me state here and now that my administration will always seek a balanced approach to managing our population growth while supporting agriculture production as the primary revenue source for farmers and ranchers. As someone who has represented rural communities in Congress for nearly a decade, I agree that managing population growth on the Front Range should not be done so at the sacrifice of rural communities
Additionally, we will oppose transmountain diversions that are not offered as a result of collaboration of the Colorado Water Conservation Board members, and that are inconsistent with the Colorado Water Plan.
Bringing The Department of Agriculture to Farmers and Ranchers
Colorado’s Department of Agriculture has offices in Broomfield and Denver, and the State Fair office is located in Pueblo. This centralization of the department along the I-25 corridor makes no sense when the vast majority of farmers and ranchers in the state are on the Eastern Plains and in Western Colorado. We will explore relocation or supplementation of many of the main office’s function to rural areas, as well as placing satellite offices in the areas where farmers and ranchers live so that interacting with the Department of Agriculture doesn’t require a trip toDenver, which can take hours and reduce productivity. By bringing government closer to farms and ranches across the state, we can improve productivity, be more responsive to community needs, save taxpayer money, and better represent the needs of the agriculture community in government.
Making Colorado The National Leader in Hemp Production
Hemp is a resilient crop. But, federal uncertainty surrounding hemp has held us back from an agricultural revolution that Colorado is poised to lead. I’ll continue to push the federal government to change the absurd classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug, and in Colorado, we will help bring opportunities for industrial hemp and other high-value crops to more Colorado farmers.
We will work with the Colorado Department of Agriculture to facilitate grant money to specifically improve hemp manufacturing and processing in our state Colorado is being put at a competitive disadvantage due to the fact that we don’t have a decorticator, the machine necessary to process hemp. We’ll work with the legislature and private industry to bring a decorticator to Colorado, and will forge a partnership with Adams State University and Colorado State University to lease its availability to farmers and ranchers, and ensure that we develop the top-of-the-line hemp processing that will propel our state forward.
Supporting Employee Ownership And Growing Agriculture Co-ops
We will make Colorado the number one state in the nation for profit-sharing and employee ownership. Allowing employees to take part in the success of the company they work for has proven to be one of best ways to improve worker productivity, help employees build wealth and take home larger paychecks, and secure a dignified retirement.
The co-op model has allowed smaller farms better opportunities to thrive in the face of the growing corporatization of agriculture. Workers benefit from the increased job stability and the chance to share in the success of the farm or ranch, and the business benefits from better worker retention and increased productivity. We’ll ensure that the Department of Agriculture is increasing its engagement and collaboration with organizations such as the Rocky MountainFarmers Union’s Co-op Development Center in making sure that businesses are able to take advantage of this tremendous tool.
Helping The Next Generation Of Agriculture Succeed
With the average age of the Colorado farmer hovering in the 60s, we are slated to undergo one of the larger generational shifts of land and water rights in the coming years. Farmers and ranchers close to retirement have a deep connection to their land, and our state should be ready to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers in continuing our rich agricultural heritage.
First, we must improve access to capital. We can do this with strategic investments from theRural Colorado Venture Capital Fund to provide seed-financing to young aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start a farm or ranch and create jobs through the Agricultural WorkforceDevelopment Program. Second, the state must continue addressing the aging agricultural workforce, and the need for reliable and skilled labor in rural Colorado. The aging workforce will also have a tremendous impact on the transfer of land and water in Colorado, which will directly impact the ability of the next generation of farmers and ranchers to succeed. We must have a structure in place to facilitate this transition. And third, we will support the state’s efforts in providing training opportunities and paid internship opportunities for aspiring young farmers, and will support the work of 4-H, FFA, and similar groups, in cultivating AgriScience education for the next generation of agriculture producers.
Pushing Back Against President Trump’s Trade War
The federal government’s anti-agriculture tariffs are driving up costs of agriculture production and reducing profits for our farmers and ranchers. We need strong leadership at the state to pushback against misguided trade wars that have caused nations across the world to cancel their purchase of American-produced goods. Misguided trade wars deflate the profits of farmers and ranchers and hurt small farmers and ranchers by putting our thriving export market at risk.
We will use the bully pulpit afforded us by the executive branch to amplify the voices of our farmers and ranchers across the state in the federal government’s trade policies, and will forge strategic partnerships with Democratic and Republican governors from nearby states to ensure that our export economy continues to thrive.
Recruiting Agricultural Business to Colorado
We will put a special focus on rural economic development in the Office of EconomicDevelopment in coordination with the Colorado Department of Agriculture and in collaboration with the state’s farm/ranch and commodity organizations and rural economic development organizations. We will implement a model economic development program to attract agricultural and food firms such as Ardent Mills to Colorado to promote research and product innovation at CSU and other state universities and to strengthen the relationships and markets for Colorado farmers and ranchers and stimulate the rural economy.
Bringing High-Speed Internet To Rural Colorado
High-speed internet is no longer a luxury: it’s become a bare necessity in making sure that people can not only get by in rural areas, but thrive. Reliable high-speed internet is critical for smart crop management, weather forecasts, the use of video feeds and drones, and is only becoming more important for modern agricultural needs, in addition to allowing for rural residents to access telemedicine, or telecommute.
We’ll give rural towns and citizens the freedom to plan for and invest in broadband by removing the antiquated requirement to conduct costly and time-intensive elections to do so. Municipal broadband is one of the most powerful consumer protection tools we have to preserve net neutrality and maintain an open internet.
Colorado will partner with local governments to create strategic regional broadband plans and support public-private partnerships by encouraging state agencies to collaborate in building reliable internet across the state using existing resources. We’ll leverage existing public broadband infrastructure from the Colorado Department of Transportation and school districts to enhance access in communities across our state.
Reliable Labor And Commonsense Immigration Reform
During my time in Congress, I have been a staunch advocate for the rights of immigrant workers in our state, and I will continue in that tradition as governor. From calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to end their raids of meat-processing plants, to pushing for theCongress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, I have strongly fought against policies that rip families apart and do harm to local communities and their economies.
Currently, too many Colorado farmers and ranchers are having trouble securing a reliable workforce. We will represent the state’s farmers and ranchers in advocating for commonsense immigration reform that reforms the H2A visa program that clear red-tape, reduce costs, and improves workforce predictability and retention.
Harnessing The Renewable Energy Economy
Farmers and ranchers across the state know that putting a wind or solar system on their property is good for the environment and for their utility bills. Our state has taken important steps to harness the power of renewable energy through the Advancing Colorado’s RenewableEnergy and Energy Efficiency (ACRE3) program. Through a multi-agency effort including theUnited States Department of Agriculture, this program has provided for over $350,000 in grants for farmers and ranchers to unleash the power of renewable energy improvements on their land and save money on electricity. We will strengthen this partnership in the face of draconian cuts at the federal level to ensure this tool is available in Colorado in the future.
And, many Colorado farmers and ranchers are supplementing their income through the use of oil and gas wells on their property. We want to ensure that Colorado farmers and ranchers are poised to benefit from the renewable energy economy, too. As governor, we’ll reduce barriers and costs to siting solar and wind projects on private and public lands, and will fight to upgrade the grid to ensure it meets all of our energy demands while saving ratepayers money.