Greenberg’s CDA takes heat during SMART hearing
Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg presented her department’s SMART Act hearing to the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and House Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee members. The CDA’s Wildly Important Goals were among the items committee members criticized, with the hearing wrapping up with Senate Committee Chair Kerry Donovan, D-Edwards, plea to not let a warning go unanswered about the future of National Western Stock Show and agriculture in the state.
Greenberg said she expects net farm income to decrease although she said uncertainty remains with market disturbances, extreme weather and government payments to producers. With $384 million of CFAP resources paid to producers in 2020 making record net income likely, 2021 income could be different, making even more important the strengthening of prices and trade agreements. Regulatory uncertainty, she said, remains a concern for producers and she said the CDA remains committed to voluntary, incentivized programs rather than mandates. Greenberg said she is committed to agriculture having a place and voice at the table when decisions are being made that affect the industry.
In relation to COVID-19 aid, the CDA paid $1.68 million in CARES funding. She said she has seen opportunities for infrastructure investments in agriculture processing and workforce development that she said would positively impact the beef, hemp, and emerging sectors by creating new jobs, increasing prices paid to producers, and expanding consumer choices. Additionally, Greenberg said investments in irrigation infrastructure, one-time grants to conservation districts for soil health, and investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency (ACRE3) grants would support producers and the businesses they rely on.
Greenberg said CDA’s commitment to rural mental health has resulted in reaching over 115,000 people via a social media campaign. The department also remains committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion, as per the Governor’s Executive Order.
Strengthening market opportunities is one of Greenberg’s Wildly Important Goals (WIGs) and is one that has been complicated by COVID. Greenberg said this goal will be met through increasing the number of administration-led strategic relationships from one to seven, by increasing the number of Colorado Proud members from 2,871 to 3,000, and by increasing social media engagement, aiming to increase from 25,147 to 28,684 followers.
The second goal is to increase voluntary stewardship by increasing participation from 44 to 119 Colorado farms and ranches in conservation activities through direct CDA assistance. She said successful completion of this goal will allow those participating to reap economic benefits through higher yields with fewer water, fertilizer, and labor inputs, thereby resulting in higher overall farm and ranch profits. The department will support incentives for farmers and ranchers to voluntarily improve water quality and soil health, limit soil loss, and enhance wildlife habitat and biodiversity.
The third goal is increasing access to services by increasing the number of improved systems from 19 to 25. Greenberg said successful completion of this goal is an organization that prioritizes data-driven decision making, increasing producer access to resources, and improving customer service. With these successes in hand, she said the department will prioritize the use of data to inform policy and program recommendations.
The first of three budget requests from CDA is to create an Agriculture Climate Resilience Office (ACRO) by consolidating resources under the Conservation Services Division. The second is the spending authority to hire a full-time position as a Hemp Enforcement Specialist to meet the increase in the number of investigations and enforcement actions as the state moves to 100 percent testing of THC for all registered hemp crops, as per the Interim Final Rule. Notably, the USDA published the Final Hemp Rule in mid-January.
The third budget request is the permanent adjustments including merging the Adult Agriculture Leadership Grant Program with the Agriculture Workforce Development Program; moving the Pet Animal Care Facility Act funding from the Animal Health Division to the Inspection and Consumer Services Division; reducing the appropriation for Information Technology Asset Maintenance; reducing the General Fund appropriation to the department’s divisions and backfilling some of that funding with cash fund spending authority.
Greenberg requested on behalf of the CDA that the General Assembly consider legislation to create the Agricultural Climate Resilience Office within the Conservation Services Division. She said the Office will house the existing Advancing Colorado’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ACRE3) program and could house future climate related programs. Move current ACRE3 cash fund balance from the Value-Added Development Board line item in the Markets Division to the new Agricultural Climate Resilience Office in the Conservation Services Division. CDA also requests legislation to reinstate the Tier II $500,000 Severance Tax Cash Fund transfer to the ACRE3 Program.
Greenberg also requested legislation to modernize the Pest Control Act by updating definitions in the Pest Control Act, Title 35 Article 4, to better align with model legislation written by the National Plant Board; establishing a process for federal recognition of state-managed control programs and quarantines of non-regulated plant pests; creating a new cash fund for emergency pest control measures; and allowing for program cost recovery. She said CDA is not asking for additional spending authority at this time.
Dr. Grant Orvis and Veronica Carpio of Grow Hemp Colorado both offered testimony regarding the hemp industry. Carpio said Commissioner Greenberg has refused to communicate with key hemp industry officials and recently has failed to respond to an industry protest letter regarding the Hemp Center for Excellence signed by over 100 stakeholders. SB 197, Carpio said, allows the CDA to select members of hemp advisory committee members without oversight from legislators which she said is detrimental to the industry. She also said no state hemp plan has been approved. Carpio testified that the lack of response, communication, and transparency from the commissioner and CDA has been detrimental to the industry. Greenberg said the hemp industry, despite the decreasing number of growers, is growing and CDA is working to expand market opportunities. In regard to accessibility and communication between stakeholders and CDA, Greenberg said she is available, aware of the challenges, and is working to address those.
Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Sterling, questioned Greenberg about the creation of the Agricultural Climate Resilience Office, citing the state’s conservation department and program.
“Activist agriculture is not good for production agriculture and it sounds like that’s where you want to go with this Climate Resilience Office,” Holtorf said. “So, I need to hear what your thoughts are for the future of this, and more importantly, commissioner, what is going to be the impact to agriculture when you try to promote climate resilience?”
Greenberg responded that the office with offer technical assistance to producers dealing with and planning for drought conditions, mitigating the effect of drought, funneling NRCS grant funds to producers on a voluntary basis.
Sen. Donovan told Greenberg that a 1 percent increase in the percentage of consumers buying Colorado products as a Wildly Important Goal is lacking. She also offered her feedback on the National Western Stock Show that Greenberg and Gov. Jared Polis drafted a letter regarding last week.
“The fact that a neighboring state was able to use the perceived perception of the Colorado state government and how we value agriculture as a reason to convince breed (associations) to leave the stock show should be a wake up call for everyone,” Donovan said.
Donovan said Colorado will likely lose portions of the NWSS.
“We will lose parts of the stock show,” she said. “What’s next? It’s time that we begin to stand up for traditional production, small scale, value-added, lavender growers, wheat growers, beet producers, beef producers and clearly we have not been able to send that message under the seal of Colorado because the stock show is in jeopardy.”
Donovan thanked the commissioner for her letter and asked Greenberg to not stop at the letter but “let our actions reflect what we said in the letter, that we value ag and think it’s important, and that we’ll stand up for it, and we will value it, and we will protect it, all parts of it.
“I think there is broad and widespread frustration with the department, independent of you as a person,” Donovan told Greenberg. “We can not let this wake up call of the stock show getting ready to walk away, one of the most spectacular things we do all year, we can not let that warning call go unanswered.”
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