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December 13, 2013
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Colorado Ag Classic Roundup: Moisture on the way? Renewable energy law a target for governor candidate

Meteorologist has good news for farmers in Colorado

LOVELAND — For the first time in years, a weatherman had good news for farmers and ranchers, telling them on Thursday that they’ll likely see normal amounts of moisture over the next year.

Brian Bledsoe, chief meteorologist with KKTV in Colorado Springs, told attendees of the 2013 Colorado Ag Classic in Loveland that weather patterns show no signs of drought in the coming year. He said without the presence of El Niño or La Niña patterns that mess with normal weather, most of Colorado will likely see reasonable amounts of moisture — something Bledsoe said he hasn’t predicted in years.

“It’s gonna snow,” he said. “(We’re) much, much more optimistic about the weather patterns than we were a year ago.”

Snow, not rain, will be most crucial in getting moisture levels back up, he said.

Bledsoe said most of the state, with the exception of portions of the state south of Interstate 70, has come out of devastating droughts that have plagued Colorado.

Bledsoe said wet weather has helped immensely in getting farmers and ranchers back on track.

“To say that we’ve erased a large part of the drought I think is an understatement,” he said.

“Most farmers and ranchers, especially the younger ones, do not even have a drought plan,” he said. “This drought problem is not going to go way just because it rains for a few months.”

Bledsoe said he predicts colder-than-normal weather to stick around for the next month and a half, bringing little precipitation. But there are indicators that helpful spring moisture will arrive right on time.

“I’m actually a little more optimistic as far as moisture in the spring time,” he said.

He added that monsoon season, which normally arrives in July, should bring normal to slightly above-normal precipitation.

“I think most people would settle for normal, whatever that is anymore,” Bledsoe said.

Overall, Bledsoe said the weather systems he monitors across the globe are all indicating there will be good news here in Colorado.

“The trend there is no monster drought signals are reappearing over our state,” he said.

Bledsoe said, though, his confidence level in his prediction is “a little bit lower than normal.

“I would caution you to say my standards (for predicting weather) are pretty high,” he said. “I’m feeling OK about seeing some moisture this year.”

Repealing SB 252 atop governor candidate’s priority list

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, stressed to the agriculture industry last week that repealing a controversial rural renewable energy law would be one of his top priorities next year.

“It’s at the top of my list,” Brophy said Wednesday afternoon during the Colorado Ag Classic’s legislative panel, which featured discussions with Rep. Perry Buck, R-Greeley, Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and Alan Foutz from the office of U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.

SB 252 requires rural energy providers to produce 20 percent of their power through renewable sources by 2020. The bill was signed into law by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in June after making its way through the legislature.

Brophy’s adamance Wednesday to take down the law was welcome news to the ag industry.

Farmers, ranchers and dairymen have long stressed that the new renewable energy standard will raise their energy costs and negatively impact their bottom lines.

“We have to stop this now ... before the rural electricity co-ops start investing in the infrastructure to do this,” Brophy said. “Once that happens, it’s too late.”

In addressing the crowd, Brophy — who announced in July his decision to run for governor in 2014 — referred to a proposed bill coming from Saine that looks to gut SB 252.

Hickenlooper signed SB 252, even though he described the legislation as “imperfect.” He said it represents the general direction he thinks Colorado should go, and in an executive order while signing the bill, he assigned a 12-person advisory committee — including representatives from environmental groups, agriculture and rural energy cooperatives — to hash out whether or not the law is feasible and how it should be implemented.

However, those committee members said they met only three times and released their final report as far back as September, concluding that the law’s requirements are feasible, but the group made no formal recommendations because members did not come to a consensus.

The law includes a 2 percent rate cap for electricity users, but ag producers have stressed that, while that might not seem like much to the average consumer, it means a lot of money to those in agriculture. Producers, they say, already spend tens of thousands of dollars per month to run dairy operations, or as much as $150 per acre per year just to operate pumps to irrigate, and, if their input costs increase, they have little to no ability to up the price consumers pay for their products.

Also, one of the biggest issues with the law is that it doesn’t include large hydroelectric projects, which accounts for a sizeable portion of the electricity produced by rural electricity cooperatives.

House passes farm bill extension; Ag producers divided over subsidies, Gardner staffer says

A staff member from the office of Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., told the state’s producers that, while food stamps remain a large source of the farm bill debate, farm subsidies, too, have yet to be sorted out.

Alan Foutz made those comments during the Colorado Ag Classic’s legislative panel on Wednesday.

The day after those discussions, the House passed yet another extension of farm law until the end of January as lawmakers try to finish work on a new five-year farm bill.

Foutz told the crowd of farmers, ranchers and dairymen Wednesday that lawmakers from corn- and soybean-producing states continue to battle with lawmakers from cotton- and rice-producing states over direct payments, made to some farmers whether they plant or not.

Corn and soybean farmers, for the most part, want to do away with direct payments, because since 2008, when the existing farm bill was passed, prices for corn and soybeans, along with other crops, have improved significantly, and direct payments aren’t needed anymore, they say. Some even feel that direct payments give the agriculture industry a black eye.

Corn and soybean growers would rather see the next farm bill include a strengthened crop insurance program.

However, direct payments still play a large role in the bottom lines of rice and cotton farmers, Foutz said, and many lawmakers from states where those crops are produced — mostly southern states — are trying to keep them in place.

In addition to Foutz discussing the direct-payments debate, other reports have surfaced recently regarding the inability for lawmakers to agree on the subsidies. The farm bill argument that has drawn the most attention has been over cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, which account for about 80 percent of the farm bill. Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill that would cut food stamps by $39 billion out of a projected $800 billion over 10 years. The Democratic-held Senate’s farm bill also would cut food stamps, but by $4.5 billion over a decade.

“I don’t want to downplay the significance of that debate,” Foutz, a former president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, said in an interview after the Colorado Ag Classic. “But when you have the ag and commodity groups debating over programs, like direct payments, that certainly slows things down even more.”

According to the Associated Press, the House passed its farm bill extension Thursday amid fears that the expiration of dairy subsidies at the end of the year will cause milk prices to rise, even though U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has assured Congress that will not happen before the end of January.

This week, a spokeswoman for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said Bennet believes the House should stay in session through next week to get a deal done, because a deal is close. Bennet sits on the Farm Bill Conference Committee.

The lack of farm bill passage is nothing new.

New programs are needed, they say.

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The Fence Post Updated Dec 13, 2013 03:55PM Published Dec 28, 2013 02:02PM Copyright 2013 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.