New ag commissioner Don Brown talks water, immigration, young farmers
Third-generation rancher Don Brown of Yuma County made his public premiere as Colorado’s new commissioner of agriculture in Denver last week, making his first speeches at the Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture and the inaugural conference for the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. Replacing commissioner John Salazar, Brown brings a background in water conservation, energy development and technology innovation to the table.
Just over a week into the job, Brown sat down with The Fence Post to discuss his new role and his priorities moving forward.
Q: How is the position treating you so far?
A: I’m really enjoying it. It’s challenging, as we well knew it would be. Agriculture by nature is a challenging business, so consequently the administration of it, the regulation of it, and educating the consumers, is challenging, but I’m enjoying it immensely. I’m meeting a lot of great people of all walks of life.
Q : Moving forward on the Colorado Water Plan, it appears we’ve come together much better statewide on planning for the future.
A: Yes, I think we all recognize that we need to come to the table. Traditionally, of course, agriculture was the primary user of it (water) and with our priority doctrine, you simply have: who owns the water, owns the water. And consequently, we are going to have to all get along and try to figure out how we’re going to make this thing work. I think one real strength of the situation is the governor is as concerned about agriculture as anybody in the state, and that’s a big deal. He does care.
Q : Can we expect a solution, even if temporary, on the Weld County groundwater issue soon?
A: I’ve not had time to fully review all of that, but I know it’s being addressed. To say I have an answer or know what the answer should be, I do not. But I do know it’s had a personal effect. It affected my mother-in-law in Sterling, so I’m aware of these issues. I can’t provide a concrete answer because I’ve not researched it enough yet. That’s the honest answer.
Q : What will be some of the major topics you look at as ag commissioner?
A: We’re moving into e-licenses, where people register online for a lot of their applicator licenses, fertilizer companies, grain warehouses, all of that. We’re also moving that into the pickups of the brand inspectors. … Of course, we’ve got other issues all the time that are cropping up as far as educating consumers on food, why it’s safe.
Q : Do Colorado’s farmers and ranchers have legitimate concerns about Waters of the U.S.?
A: Every situation is different. So often one area in the country is painted with the same brush that another area of the country is. That is not (correct). … We need to make sure we have our input on how those proposed rule changes will affect us, probably in a negative way. We need to make sure we’re constantly monitoring that.
Q: What would ag like to see happen this year in regard to immigration?
A: As a user of the H-2A program, I realize there is an enormous number of problems with that. That piece needs to be worked on, particularly for those who rely on seasonal labor. When winter is coming, the vegetables don’t care; they need help, and they need it now. It’s just that simple. We can’t be dawdling with a system that is behind, and awkward and slow.
Q: What can we do to encourage more young people to get involved in agriculture?
A: The first thing I want you to write down is: now you’re getting personal (laughs). I fit right in the window of the average farmer. We’re seeing somewhat of a swing of younger people coming back into our small community. The brain drain is something we need to work on.
Although I don’t have any specific program in mind, it is a deep-seated concern of mine, and it will be something we will attempt to address during my tenure as commissioner.
Q: What is it about Colorado’s agricultural industry that makes it special?
A: There are 3,000 plus counties in the United States, and Colorado in gross sales has one ranked ninth and one ranked 24th. If we were a football team, we’d get recognition every week, every night in the news. ❖