Water laws, genetically modified organisms and multiple use on public lands were three of the major topics discussed at an open forum Saturday at the Four States Agricultural Exposition.
Panelists at the forum included state Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar and Jim Isgar, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development state director.
All three men come from farming and ranching backgrounds and all expressed their passion for agriculture and desire to protect the heritage of agriculture in Colorado.
Less than 2 percent of the population of this country lives on farms and ranches, Salazar said. There is no room for partisanship in my opinion. I believe we have to stick together. I am proud to be able to serve as your ag commissioner, and Ive never seen this as a political appointment. I see this more as a public service.
Farmers and ranchers are battling a lack of comprehension of ag-related matters at the federal level, Salazar said, noting there are only two active farmers in Congress.
That gives you an indication of the level of understanding at the federal level, he said.
Brown and Isgar touched on the necessity of cooperation and careful planning to ride out the economic storm that has impacted farms and ranches in Colorado and across the nation.
We are going to have to work together to get through it, Brown said. We need to cut back on a lot of things, and thats the way it is going to have to be.
Isgar agreed that cuts will have to be made across the board, including programs offered through the USDA.
It is hard to plan when we dont know what our funding levels are going to be, but we are working on ensuring the programs that are necessary for areas such as Montezuma County, he said. One benefit is you have people in leadership who understand agriculture and what you are going through.
Despite the forums open nature, the public asked few questions. Rusty and Laurie Hall, owners of Seven Meadows Farms in Mancos, confronted Salazar on labeling practices for foods that include genetically modified organisms, typically referred to as GMOs, as well as practices of companies such as Monsanto, an agricultural biotechnology corporation.
Im wondering if you would support mandatory labeling of foods containing modified units, Rusty Hall asked Salazar.
Salazar said he does support mandatory labeling, but he also understands the need for GMOs in production.
I believe GMOs play an important part in our economy, he said. I believe this is a tool that will help us minimize the use of pesticides.
Laurie Hall specifically asked Salazar to regulate the practices of Monsanto and other companies that make it difficult for independent testing to occur on products.
Salazar said regulation is important but advancements in technology are necessary for farmers and ranchers to reach the level of food production necessary to feed the world in the next 50 years.
Water concerns were also raised at the forum, with one member of the public asking if any of the panelists anticipated major changes in Colorado water law. Isgar said minor modifications are always to be expected but major changes are not on the horizon.
You are not going to see changes to the basic premise of the water law, Isgar said.
Brown and Salazar stressed the importance of water to the Western Slope and promised to fight encroachment from the Colorado Front Range.
Public lands were also briefly mentioned. Both Salazar and Brown stressed the importance of multiple use rights on public lands.
I think the greatest attribute that agriculture has to society in general is the ability to keep these lands in agriculture, Salazar said. That helps the public to have all these beautiful spaces.
Salazar said he intends to pass on concerns over multiple use to his brother, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
He is going to be in the state next week, and I think one of the issues he wanted to visit about is public lands and multiple use, Salazar said. I will bring your concerns to his attention.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]