Colo. governor to sign bill supporting next generation of farmers and ranchers | TheFencePost.com

Colo. governor to sign bill supporting next generation of farmers and ranchers

-National Young Farmers Coalition

DURANGO, Colo. — Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper will travel to Durango on Thursday, May 24, to sign a bipartisan bill to support and train the next generation of Colorado farmers and ranchers. The signing will take place at 2:30 p.m. MST at Escalante Middle School, 141 Baker Lane, Durango, Colo.

The legislation (SB18-042), which creates a new Agricultural Workforce Development Program, emerged from the first-ever Colorado Young and Beginning Farmer Interim Study Committee, established in 2017. The new program will reimburse qualified agricultural businesses up to 50 percent of the cost of hiring a farm apprentice, helping existing farmers and ranchers stay in production while allowing young farmers and ranchers to gain better access to land, equipment and mentorship.

"If Colorado wants to save family farms, we need to find ways for young and beginning farmers to be farmers," said Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, one of the prime bill sponsors in the House. "This bill will help start that conversation."

"Our agricultural lands are an essential part of the fabric of Colorado, and we must do what we can to keep them viable and productive," said Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, the bill's other prime sponsor in the House. "Young and beginning farmers represent our future, our environment, and our economy." In the Senate, the bill was championed by prime sponsors Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa.

This bill comes at a critical moment for Colorado agriculture. The average age of farmers in the state is 59, higher than the national average. Sixty-four percent of Colorado producers will exit farming over the next two decades, and over 20 million acres, or 63 percent of Colorado's agricultural land, will need a new farmer. But there are not enough young farmers to take over: Colorado farmers over 55 outnumber farmers under 35 by 12-to-one. Ensuring that young farmers and ranchers have access to land and mentorship is critical to the future of agriculture in Colorado.

"We're at a fork in the road: two-thirds of Colorado's working lands will need a new farmer in the next 20 years," said Kate Greenberg, western program director for the National Young Farmers Coalition, who is based in Durango. "This bill will provide opportunities for young farmers and ranchers to gain experience while keeping the current generation of farmers and ranchers whole, which is essential to protecting the agricultural economy and the food, land, and water farmers steward."

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Reps. Catlin and McLachlan will be attending Thursday's bill signing. Joining them will be local farmer and rancher leaders of the Four Corners Farmers and Ranchers Coalition, a joint chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Farmers from this chapter and other joint chapters across the state helped form a coalition to campaign for the bill's passage, including testimony, meetings with legislators, and grassroots phone and email actions.