Front Range legislators tour Eastern Plains agriculture
Each summer, rural Colorado’s legislators host a tour of some agricultural operations within their districts so legislators further removed from production agriculture can attend, tour, and hear from ag producers in the state. Republican Sens. Byron Pelton and Rod Pelton and Reps. Richard Holtorf and Ty Winter hosted the two-day tour with the first day in northeastern Colorado and the second day in the southeast.
The first stop was Magnum Feeders in Wiggins, Colo., owned by Steve Gabel, a mid-sized feedyard in Morgan County. Gabel spoke to the legislators in attendance, giving an overview of the facility, established in 1943 by two brothers and purchased and operated as Magnum beginning in 1994. He said the facility has undergone a number of upgrades as it has grown from a capacity of about 3,500 head to a capacity of about 35,000 head.
He said greater efficiencies have been major investments — $3.5 million on a renovated feed mill, an expansion of 15,000 head capacity, and a water reclamation facility with plans to add another, an investment of over $300,000.
He said there is nothing he or his feedyard manager Dirk Murphy or any of the 30-some other employees do on a daily basis that they’re embarrassed about, but he said, “believe me when I say, some days are better than others.” He said he hosted a group of bankers last winter and despite the best laid plans, the tour fell on a day that was cold and snowy.
“It was snowing so hard that day, you couldn’t see across the county road,” he said, “They learned something about us that without those weather conditions, we wouldn’t have been able to show them.”
Gabel spoke extensively about labor and creating a work environment that retains employees; ration ingredients; day to day operations; recent significant expense increases; the company’s $2 million payroll on single digit margins; sourcing locally grown feed ingredients; partnering with farmers to supply compost; sustainability and the need to remain profitable.
Rep. Jennifer Bacon, who represents Denver County, said many of her constituents are very cost conscious when feeding their families.
“I think ground beef is the test for me,” Rep. Bacon said. “You know the $4 roll that is now $6 and the family that is trying to afford that protein because that spaghetti and meat sauce will go a lot further.”
Gabel said the cattle industry has become more efficient through improved genetics and nutrition to keep the grocery coolers full and to keep prices down to the extent they have control of those prices.
In terms of labor, Gabel said turnover is expensive and he has made a conscious decision to decrease it as much as possible. Magnum employees have been employed for an average of nearly a decade, a point he is proud of.
“We have to treat our employees fairly because if we don’t, they have other options,” he said.
The tour also included stops at Colorado Lamb Processors in Brush; a talk about water on the Lower South Platte River by Jim Yahn; a tour of Kraft’s Dairy Farms at Quail Ridge Dairy and Badger Creek Farm in Fort Morgan; a tour and visit with sugar beet producers at Western Sugar Co-op in Fort Morgan; a talk about wheat production at Beedy’s Farm and Ranch in Genoa; a presentation on Lower Arkansas Water Conservation by Jack Goble, general manager; Knapp Farms Market stop to visit about fruit and vegetable production with the Knapp and Hirakata families; a tour of the Allen family’s Broken Spear Ranch in Model; and a tour of Evergreen Natural Resources, LLC in Trinidad.
Sen. Byron Pelton said his district combined with Sen. Rod Pelton’s district comprise 44% of the state’s landmass and 7% of the people of the state. Those acres are also responsible for a large amount of the state’s $47 billion agriculture industry.
“I told them I want them to understand these are families doing these jobs, these are family-run businesses,” he said. “When there’s legislation that affects agriculture, it affects these families and the economy.”
Rep. Ty Winter said labor was a major conversation, especially during the stop in Rocky Ford when the group was able to speak to members of the Knapp, Hirakata, and Hanagan families. He said it was eye opening to hear first hand that so many ag employees affected by recent labor bills are frustrated with their inability to work more hours during the labor window.
Rep. Jenny Willford said the precision and the commitment to reuse and reclaim water is one of the points she took with her back to the Front Range. She said the technology, also, was impressive, and cited the Kraft Dairies, where the production and health information for every cow is accessible on an app.
Rep. Winter said rural legislators are able to see many of the problems Front Range constituents are facing when they’re in Denver. The opposite is not true, which is why he said the late Kimmi Lewis started the ag tour during her tenure in the House.
“We see the drugs, we see the homelessness, we hear about the crime, we hear the sirens,” he said. “We may not agree with their policies, but we can see the angle they’re taking. They don’t get to see our background and our people and hear from people their policies are actually affecting.”
Winter said the legislators on the tour are all influential leaders within their caucus and he hopes the conversations and experiences will translate when rural legislators introduce bills or when agriculture stands to be affected by policies and legislation.
Legislators who attended the tour include Sen. Mark Baisley, R-HD4, Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-HD7, Sen. Larry Liston, R-SD10, Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-HD59, Sen. James Coleman, D-SD33, Rep. Karen McCormick, D-HD11, Rep. Jenny Willford, D-HD34, Rep. Lisa Frizell, R-HD45, Sen. Chris Hanson, D-SD31, Rep. Mandy Lindsay, D-HD42, and Rep. Anthony Hartsook, R-HD44.