Cong. Gardner Visits Local Wheat Fields, Discusses Farm Bill

U.S. Congressman Cory Gardner

U.S. Congressman Cory Gardner

This past Friday , May 31, marked the third wheat field tour conducted by U.S. Congressman Cory Gardner since his election to represent the 4th District in Colorado, basically the eastern portion of the state, border to border with Nebraska and New Mexico.  “I’ve covered the northeast corner in the first year, mid north in the second and this will be a view of southeast Colorado for this year,” he told the gathering at Steve Shelton’s farm, about 10 miles south of Lamar.  His trip included Springfield and Walsh to survey field conditions there.  Gardner said he was surprised by the abrupt change in the land and the dry conditions he noted as soon as he continued travelling south of Cheyenne County.  “The difference is noticeable in only a few miles.  When you see pastures being chiseled to keep them from blowing, when you see the wheat crop being sprayed to kill the crop, it’s pretty incredible to see what’s happening because of the drought,” he stated.  “You go from green to grey in the span of about a half hour of travel when you’re coming in this way from the north.”  He added, “We have to figure out a way to make sure that policies in the farm bill continue to maintain that strong safety net for our communities in agriculture, whether its insurance, conversation or on the commodity title.”  Speaking about the need to maintain a healthy agriculture climate and the need to produce food here, Gardner asked, “Can you imagine what this country would look like if we imported 60% of our food?” 

Gardner and Steve Shelton listen to a speaker

Gardner and Steve Shelton listen to a speaker

Several representatives from state and national wheat organizations were on hand for the tour and catered BBQ lunch at Shelton’s farm.  Gardner spent time with individuals and groups, discussing not just wheat conditions and the farm bill, but issues of local and regional concern, ranging from the Lamar Repowering Project, the Southwest Chief route through southeast Colorado, conservation easements and of course, the drought.  Landowner Jillane Hixson suggested that Gardner invite high ranking congressman to visit the devastation associated with the drought as members have toured parts of Oklahoma and California that have been impacted by tornadoes and by wildfires.  She suggested that they should have a first-hand look at how this part of the country has been economically impacted by a natural disaster that has been stretched over ten years, not just a spring and summer season.  Gardner said he’d draft letters to his counterparts on that matter. 

Several noted individuals addressed the gathering including Sara Olsen, President of the Colorado Wheat Administrative Council, Mark Linnebur, President of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers and Steve Breedy, the incoming President of the Wheat Administrative Council. 

Gardner Speaking with Commissioner Schnabel with John Stulp and Wendy Buxton-Andrade in background

Gardner Speaking with Commissioner Schnabel with John Stulp and Wendy Buxton-Andrade in background

Olsen, a long-time family friend of Gardner, highlighted the agricultural and economic impact wheat has on the state.  She said the 4th Congressional District encompasses 22 counties in eastern Colorado and accounted for 97% of wheat production in the state and brought in around $480 million in wheat sales last year.  “Sometimes we feel like we’re few, but we’re mighty, and we’re second only in tourism for revenue in the state,” she said.  Olsen added that she continually works to remind people along the Front Range of the economic impact agriculture adds to Colorado. 

Linnebur and his family grow wheat and corn dryland east of Denver.  He said his group stays active on the state level, especially with the association of wheat growers and the legislative session.  Linnebur said he hasn’t seen a lot of state issues, but has been following the course of the new federal farm bill, especially maintaining crop insurance coverage.  He too, commented on the big change in land in just a few miles as your travel into southeast Colorado.  Linnebur also noted the AGI, Adjusted Growth Income, an amendment added to the farm bill in the senate debate.  Linnebur gave an example, stating,  “If you’re above $750,000 for an AGI, your crop insurance will be reduced from a 70% level to a 55% level.  I believe if that goes through you’ll eventually see the end of crop insurance.“    He said he felt that if fewer acres go into the insurance pool, farmer’s premiums could rise significantly.  He said another area of concern is reducing funds for crop research.  

Regarding the farm bill, Gardner said he felt it would come up on the House floor by the third week in June and would come with significant changes.  He listed the commodities title, the elimination of direct payments for countercyclical payments in a revenue assurance type of model, on crop insurance changes in viewpoints between the house and senate.  He said a turnover in the ranking membership of the Ag commission meant a switch in emphasis from corn and wheat over to cotton and rice.  He noted these changes in leadership can have a bearing on the outcome of the farm bill and potential cuts in forms of crop insurance coverage.  Gardner said additional discussion would also be noted on the Food Nutrition side including food stamps and marketing of products.   

The congressman noted the disconnect farmers and ranchers face in a country who lacks a basic understanding of what it takes to bring food to the table and said it is a factor of concern with his counterparts in Washington, D.C.  “There are less than 2% of us today in production agriculture.  98% of the people in this country don’t know what it’s like to produce their food…breakfast lunch or dinner, but they think they know how to do it better than anybody in this room, but their dollars drive those decisions.”  Gardner said there are people who pay twice the cost for brown eggs because they believe they are better for you than regular white eggs.  He added, “When I get tweets from people in Greeley, Colorado who want to stop GMO’s, we’re losing the messaging battle.”  Gardner continued, “There are people who have no idea what drought-resistant strains of GMO wheat can do, but they want research and development stopped.”  Gardner urged everyone to become ambassadors to teach our city cousins about what we’re doing and the problems and concerns we face to bring in a crop.  He said it’s critical to our future generations.

Local officials and citizens who attended the lunch and tour included Prowers County Commissioners, Wendy Buxton-Andrade and Henry Schnabel, Wilma Trujillo, Southeast Area Agronomist and John Stulp former State Agriculture Commissioner who now heads a state water conservation committee.

By Russ Baldwin


Filed Under: AgricultureBusinessCommissionersCountyEducationEmploymentEnvironmentFeaturedLamarPoliticsProwers CountyWeather


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