Rocky Mountain Ag Notebook: Disaster declarations in Colo.; C-BT quota at 60; New Western Sugar CEO | TheFencePost.com

Rocky Mountain Ag Notebook: Disaster declarations in Colo.; C-BT quota at 60; New Western Sugar CEO

USDA Designates Eight Colorado Counties as Drought Disaster Areas

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently issued contiguous disaster designations for eight Colorado counties due to recent drought conditions.

The designations mean farmers and ranchers are eligible for assistance from the Farm Service Agency.

"Despite above-average snowpack in Colorado's mountains, many of our producers along the Eastern plains continue to suffer through severe drought conditions," said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. "With these designations, farmers and ranchers will be able to access critical assistance to help them deal with any losses to crops or livestock. Thankfully, our producers have a full, five-year Farm Bill they can rely on to help them through tough times like these."

Producers in the following counties are eligible for assistance: Baca, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Kit Carson, Phillips, Prowers, Sedgwick, and Yuma.

Producers in counties designated as primary or contiguous disaster areas are eligible to be considered for FSA emergency loans. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the disaster declaration to apply for assistance. Local FSA offices can provide affected farmers and ranchers with additional information.

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— Office of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet

Soybean, Corn Growers welcome federal GMO labeling legislation

The American Soybean Association and National Corn Growers Association both welcomed the introduction this morning of new legislation to establish a federal voluntary labeling standard for foods made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would direct FDA to provide guidance for companies that wish to label their products for the presence or absence of GMOs; make mandatory an FDA safety review of all new GMO traits before they are brought to market and enable FDA to mandate labels on any product shown to pose a health, safety or nutrition risk; and directs FDA to define the term "natural" for use on food labels.

Additionally, the bill would eliminate a large potential source of confusion among consumers by establishing FDA's labeling guidance as the national standard and preventing states from enacting a patchwork of conflicting requirements.

The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, among other groups, applauded the legislation's introduction as well.

— Staff reports

Farm Bureau: EPA waters rule 'serious threat'

The American Farm Bureau Federation recently said its review of the Environmental Protection Agency's "waters of the United States" proposed rule found it to be "dismaying" and that the group will fight the finalization of the rule.

"The EPA proposal poses a serious threat to farmers, ranchers and other landowners," Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said in a news release.

"Under EPA's proposed new rule, waters — even ditches — are regulated even if they are miles from the nearest 'navigable' waters," Stallman said. "Indeed, so-called 'waters' are regulated even if they aren't wet most of the time."

"EPA says its new rule will reduce uncertainty, and that much seems to be true: there isn't much uncertainty if most every feature where water flows or stands after a rainfall is federally regulated," he said.

If the proposed rule is finalized, farmers, ranchers and other landowners "will face a tremendous new roadblock to ordinary land use activities" because permits would be required for many activities, Farm Bureau said.

In addition, Farm Bureau said the "interpretive rule" that attempts to clarify certain statutory exemptions for agricultural conservation practices would "apply only to 'dredge and fill' permit requirements."

"They do not protect farmers from federal veto power over pest and weed control, fertilizer application, and other essential farming activities that may result in the addition of 'pollutants' to 'navigable waters,' Farm Bureau said, "providing one views every ditch and wet spot across the landscape as 'navigable waters.'"

— American Farm Bureau Federation

No peach of a bill?

As Colorado lawmakers consider a bill that would name the Palisade peach as fruit, the idea has one Southern Colorado representative questioning the focus of the House session.

Rep. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, said Thursday that he does not support the bill because it is not a priority in a session that has only 27 days left.

"I believe that we should focus on a lot more important issues," Garcia said. Colorado doesn't have a state fruit.

Garcia said another problem he has with the bill is that its sponsors are all from the Denver metro area, which doesn't represent the whole state.

"That concerns me because we legislate laws for the entire state, not just Denver," Garcia said.

HB1304 was introduced by Sen. Angela Williams, D-Denver, Committee last month and passed the Appropriations Committee Thursday.

Garcia said although the Palisade peach is a great fruit that he enjoys, there are several other fruit products that can represent Colorado.

— The Pueblo, Colo., Chieftain

C-BT quota set at 60 percent

The quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the region's largest water-supply project, was set at 60 percent Friday.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District's board of directors made the decision Friday morning, "citing the need to balance the region's water demands with the importance of maintaining future reservoir supplies," according to a news release from the district.

The approval increased available C-BT water supplies by 10 percent, or 31,000 acre feet (about 10 billion gallons), from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November.

A 60 percent quota means that for every acre foot of water a C-BT shareholder owns, they'll get 60 percent of an acre-foot to use throughout the year. An acre foot amounts to about 325,850 gallons.

Since the C-BT Project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a C-BT quota every April to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years.

In nearly all years, the board can set a quota of 100 percent, although it rarely does, and still have some in storage for the next year.

The average quota is about 70 percent.

The good water outlook for northeast Colorado right now contributed to the Northern Water board setting its lower-than-normal quota today (the C-BT was built to serve as a supplemental water supply, with high quotas usually set in dry years, Northern Water officials stress).

— Staff reports

'Ranching and a West That Works:' Free Seminar April 24-25 at CSU

A free two-day conference focused on issues of ranching, land use, and sustainability will be held at Colorado State University's Lory Student Theater on April 24-25.

The Ranching and a West That Works conference is designed for a diverse audience — from students to families to business owners — who are encouraged to attend and learn from speakers who will explore ranching's connections to water, food, sustainable grazing, public-private partnerships, livelihoods, rural economies and much more.

Ranching can build bridges between rural and urban communities through the twin connections of open space and food. Across the American West, ranching accounts for a majority of land use, both on private and on public lands. In fact, close to half of the private lands that surround our public lands belong to ranchers that graze livestock on public lands. There is a tight coupling of this land use that protects open space but also produces an important food item. This event will explore these connections and start important dialogue about new ideas for the future of ranching.

To RSVP for the conference contact Kellie.Clark@colostate.edu. For more information, visit http://www.coopext.colostate.edu/WR/ranchingcsu.shtml.

— Colorado State University

Snow, rain a blessing for farmers

Last week's snow and rain will get the farming season off to the best start it has seen in four years.

"I'm always optimistic about farming," said Tom Rusler, who farms near Avondale on the Bessemer Ditch. "But last week's moisture was about as nice as they come, we got about half an inch down here, but I just got back from Leadville and the snow is beautiful up there."

The snow helped winter wheat, triticale and alfalfa crops already in the ground. It also softened up the ground for spring planting, which will occur between now and mid-June.

"I got about six-tenths of an inch, which is the most moisture I've had in three years," said John Singletary, who was surveying his fields near Vineland. "It came at a great time and will allow us to plant in moisture this year."

Farmers also are encouraged by winter water, which finished 50 percent better than last year but shy of average, and Fryingpan- Arkansas Project imports, which are expected to be above average.

Snow and rain fell over most of the Arkansas River basin last week, but was heaviest in the mountains and foothills.

Five-day precipitation totals ranged from just 0.14 inches in Prowers County to nearly 2 inches at Twin Lakes.

Some places in Pueblo County got as much as an inch during that period.

More moisture and cooler weather are expected to move into the area by the weekend.

— The Pueblo, Colo., Chieftain

Nevada governor, senator join criticism of federal cattle roundup

Nevada's governor and one of its U.S. senators have joined a chorus of criticism of a monthlong federal government roundup of a recalcitrant rancher's 900 cattle that for decades have grazed on hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands near here.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a statement that his office has received numerous complaints about the operation by the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service to collect cattle belonging to southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who for decades has refused to pay the required fees to graze his animals on public land.

The Republican governor called the operation, which has closed off to the public huge tracts of land while workers in trucks and helicopters round up the cattle, a violation of the rights of everyday Nevadans.

He singled out the BLM's so-called "First Amendment area," far from the collection of the cattle, for critics to protest the move.

"Most disturbing to me is the BLM's establishment of a "First Amendment area" that tramples upon Nevadan's fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution. To that end, I have advised the BLM that such conduct is offensive to me and countless others and that the "First Amendment area" should be dismantled immediately," he said in the statement.

— Los Angeles Times

Colo. Farm Bureau commends CWCB on water bill support

The Colorado Water Conservation Board announced on March 31 their support of HB-1028.

The bill , titled "Oppose Federal Special Use Permit Water Rights," is sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.

The bill specifies that if the United States obtains a water right as a result of a transfer or conveyance required as a condition to a special use permit or other authorization to enter upon or use federally owned land, the water right was originally appropriated by a person other than the United States, and the water right is not a federal reserved water right, the water right is presumed to be held by the United States for speculative purposes. Such a water right is not automatically abandoned, but is forfeited by the United States and reverts to the prior owner for continued use under its original priority.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, stated in his letter to the Colorado General Assembly, "While state law cannot control the terms of a federal special use permit, the State of Colorado should send a strong message to Washington that we intend to protect our control and authority over our water. House Bill 14-1028 helps send such a message."

Colorado Farm Bureau officials, too, support this bill.

"We believe this bill will help to protect farmers and ranchers from government seizure of their water rights through requirements for special use permits, and permits for grazing on federal lands," said President Don Shawcroft.

— Colorado Farm Bureau

U.S. Corn Belt the most productive region in the world?

NASA researchers have used a new satellite technique to pinpoint the most productive plant-growing regions in the world.

For a few months every year, it turns out the U.S. Corn Belt has the most prolific plant growth on the planet, besting even the ever-green Amazon.

The surprising discovery not only gives the Midwest a feather in its cap, it could also provide a major boost to crop forecasting in the regions of the world that will need it most.

Researchers used a nifty trick to better understand productivity. Rather than looking at how green an area is, they examined its fluorescence. Chlorophyll is responsible for the greening of plants, but as it photosynthesizes incoming sunlight, it also emits a small fluorescent glow.

That glow is invisible to the naked human eye, but it's bright as day to satellites with specialized monitoring equipment.

Using ground measurements, scientists confirmed the method is a more accurate proxy for plant productivity than any other technique currently in use.

It's amazing to consider that satellites miles above the planet can detect what's happening at the molecular level in plants.

The resulting analysis showed that when corn and soybean plants kick into high photosynthetic gear in July at the peak of growing season, they make the Midwest the most productive place on Earth. Previous techniques underestimated the region's productivity by 40-60 percent.

— Climate Central