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Posted: June 01, 2014

State of the state: Agriculture

Misnomer aside, farmers and ranchers welcome farm bill

Suzie Romig

Farmer Mark Linnebur’s family has been raising wheat in Eastern Colorado since the 1930s, so Linnebur and his five brothers know a thing or two about the ups and downs of agriculture.

The family farm totals 8,000 acres near Byers in Arapahoe County, and Linnebur is one of many farmers who is happy the U.S. farm bill, or the Agriculture Act of 2014, was signed in February. With delays and political wrangling now in the past, what the farm bill means to Colorado agriculture is more stability.

“Farming is an inherently risky business. This helps make it so families can stay farming, and it will prevent it from going to a corporate farming atmosphere,” Linnebur said. “If we can maintain families in farming, then we protect our environment and the land we live on to preserve it for the next generation.”

Colorado farmers and ranchers are quick to point out that “farm bill” is a misnomer. They say the estimated $956 billion package includes 15 percent in funding tied directly to agriculture for farm and crop insurance subsidies, but the majority 80 percent is dedicated to assistance programs such as food stamps, or SNAP, which farmers see as an indirect connection.

“You have a farm bill that is close to a trillion dollars; the public gets a misconception that all that money goes to farmers,” said Dave Eckhardt, who works a fifth-generation family farm near LaSalle in Weld County.

What matters to Colorado agricultural business owners are the concrete and permanent changes in the bill that improve such policies as viable crop insurance and drought and disaster relief for livestock. Outdated direct payment programs – a system that paid producers regardless of incurred losses – were dissolved with little complaint from agriculture groups in exchange for updated revenue loss protection programs. Ad hoc programs for livestock and grazing losses were made permanent in the bill and retroactive to Oct. 1, 2011, which could prove beneficial to ranchers affected by the drought.

“I’m happy that it gives some certainty as far as crop insurance goes and conservation and commodity programs,” said Eckhardt, president of the Colorado Corn Growers Association. “From a farmer’s standpoint (the bill) is needed from an operational perspective to know where we are headed in the next five years for farm policy.”

Farmers and ranchers also are pleased about the points in the bulky legislation that assist research institutions such as Colorado State University. They hope funding will be sufficient to support staffing at U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies. Farmers say that with 900-plus pages in the farm bill and new regulations released gradually through the spring, well-staffed ag offices are needed to translate the legalize into appropriate benefits for farms and ranches.

“Not everybody is the world’s greatest businessman, but you want to maintain those people who truly care about the land,” said Linnebur, president of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers. “Whatever the government can do to help stabilize that is good.”

Current information can be found at www.fsa.usda.gov/farmbill

 

Colorado agriculture by the numbers:

37,054 – farms and ranches

853 – average farm/ranch size in acres

31.6 million – total acres of farm/ranch land

173,000 – people employed

Top products:  cattle, corn for grain, dairy products, wheat, hay, greenhouse/nursery, potatoes

Top 10 counties based on value of products sold:  Weld, Yuma, Morgan, Logan, Kit Carson, Prowers, Adams, Phillips, Washington, Larimer

Source: National Agriculture Statistics Service and Colorado Department of Agriculture

Suzie C. Romig is a freelance journalist who has lived in Colorado since 1991. Her byline has appeared in newspapers and magazines across the state on topics ranging from small businesses to raising children to energy efficiency. She can be reached at suziecr@q.com

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