Gov. Ritter: Nation needs to plan, prepare for future like farmers do
A “harvest mentality.”
That, said Gov. Bill Ritter at this year’s annual Governor’s Forum on Agriculture, is what the nation is lacking.
Ritter, who announced earlier this year he is not seeking a second term as governor, was candid in both his talk to a crowd of nearly 250 as well when responding to questions.
In those remarks, Ritter said the country does not have the harvest mentality of farmers, who prepare, plant and then harvest their crops every year, knowing that not every year is going to be good, but they always plan and prepare for the future. Instead, he said, the nation is one of wanting instant satisfaction.
“We, as a culture, lack that harvest mentality,” he said.
Ritter went on to say that budget cuts have hit all areas of state government, including agriculture, where $4 million of $138 million in agricultural tax credits and exemptions were cut.
“In my mind, agriculture is one of the most important sectors of our state for a variety of reasons,” Ritter said. Those tax credits that “are going away are temporary suspensions,” he added.
He said the state needs to address water issues in order “to preserve agriculture. In the future, we can’t be transferring water from ag land,” citing examples of what has happened in areas of the Arkansas Valley when water was transferred to municipalities, virtually eliminating irrigated agriculture in certain areas.
But when questioned, the governor refused to take a stance on the Northern Integrated Supply Program, which calls for the construction of two new reservoirs in northern Colorado that will both supply needed water to towns and cities in the region while keeping agriculture water on farmland.
Instead, he said, he wanted to wait for the final results of the Environmental Impact Statement on that project to “develop a sense on where I want to go.” That EIS is expected later this year.
He then fielded another question from a farmer who said he couldn’t understand why water for that project may become available from a junior water right while he can’t pump irrigation wells, which have rights years in senior to rights for the proposed reservoirs.
“I can’t do anything about court decisions, and the shutdown of those wells is a court decision. I wish I could do something, but we all have to live with court decisions,” Ritter said.
The questions then turned to immigration and farm labor.
Immigration, Ritter said, is a federal problem.
“What we need in this country is a sensible immigration policy that will meet labor demands,” he said. Immigrants, he continued, need to be integrated into the economy “where they pay taxes, pay for education and pay for health care.”
He urged those in attendance to demand the federal government to develop “immigration policy designed on workforce demands.”
Ritter and others at this year’s forum focused on food production for the future and how at least twice as much food will be needed to feed the world in the next 30-40 years while producing that food on less land. Or, as Commissioner of Agriculture John Stulp noted, “in the next 50 years or so we are going to have to produce as much food as we did in the last 5,000-10,000 years.”
Those needs will be met by research – finding ways to produce more food using less land, less inputs and protecting the environment.
Stulp said improvements in the past have included center pivot technology, which helped increase corn production from 25-30 bushels to the acre to at least 200 bushels, and turbines, which once produced electricity at a cost of 40 cents per kilowatt to a present 4-6 cents.
But improvements in the future will come largely in genetically modified organism, or sometimes called genetically engineered organisms, where genetic material from a plant grown in South America or another part of the world is put in the same type of plant grown in North America to produce a plant with the best attributes of both or to meet specific needs in specific areas, such as drought-tolerant plants.
That’s in simplest terms, of course.
But Robb Farley, the chief technology officer with Monsanto, which has been involved in that type of work for a number of years – and has received its share of criticism because of that work – said all 44,000 genes in corn are now known. And that knowledge, he said, will lead to 300 bushel per acre yields by 2030.
While farmers have used hybrid seed for years, genetic technology is reaching new levels. Monsanto, Farley said, spends $1 billion a year on research and development.
Some claim the technology is not good, that it will lead to health problems among animals and people. But those same critics haven’t come up with a viable alternative of meeting future food needs.
“Agriculture is an 8,000-year-old industry but it hasn’t seen anything like the changes that are coming,” Farley said, adding he wished he was at the beginning of his 30-year career and not at the end.
Bill Jackson has covered agriculture in northern Colorado for more than 30 years. His column runs every other Sunday. If you have ideas for this column, call him at (970) 392-4442.