Rocky Mountain Ag Notebook: Hickenlooper kills water measure; Groups weigh in on new carbon rule

Hickenlooper kills water measure

Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a water measure Thursday, citing “unresolved concerns about its potential impact to water rights.”

At its core, Senate Bill 23 called for the authorization of the voluntary transfer of water efficiency savings to the Colorado Water Conservation board for instream use purposes in water divisions that include lands west of the Continental Divide.

Sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, the bill would have provided incentives to Western Slope owners of water rights to make water conservation improvements — such as using more efficient sprinklers — and to leave the water efficiency savings in the stream. They said it would “promoting healthy river flows without jeopardizing the owners’ water rights under the use-it-or-lose-it principle.”

Hickenlooper, in a letter to the state Senate, said his decision to veto the bill — which received bipartisan support — was not easy.

“That is because the bill’s goals are important for our water future and we appreciate and honor the thousands of hours that went into crafting this legislation,” Hickenlooper wrote. “Despite these efforts, there was a breakdown in consensus toward the end of the legislative session that divided the water community and, in our view, would make implementation of the policy more difficult.”

— The Denver Post

Ag Groups Request ‘Water’ Rule Extension

In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and USDA this week, more than 70 agriculture stakeholder groups requested more time to comment on EPA’s proposed rule on waters of the United States.

The groups requested extensions of the comment period on a proposed regulation defining “waters of the United States” and an accompanying agricultural exemptions rule related to changes in the Clean Water Act. The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers issued the proposed rule in April to clarify the agencies’ authority under the CWA over various waters.

The organizations are asking for an additional 90 days beyond the July 21 deadline for submitting comments on the proposed rule, or 90 days after EPA releases the “Connectivity Report,” which is supposed to serve as the scientific basis for any expansion of CWA jurisdiction.

For the agricultural exemptions rule, the groups are requesting that the comment deadline coincide with the closing date for the proposed rule but be at least an additional 45 days beyond the current June 5 deadline.

The groups said the rule would redefine “waters of the United States” to include intermittent and ephemeral streams, which could potentially affect agriculture.

— American Farm Bureau Federation

Rural Affairs Group: New Carbon Rules Create Opportunity

The Obama Administration recently announced their intention to take aggressive action to fight climate change through a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that would cut carbon pollution from the nation’s existing coal-fired power plants by 30 percent by 2030. The proposed reduction from 2005 carbon emission levels is one of the strongest actions ever taken by the United States to address climate change.

“We have a moral obligation to protect our children and generations to come from the impacts of climate change,” said Johnathan Hladik, Senior Advocate for Energy Policy at the Center for Rural Affairs. “Carbon pollution fuels climate change, contributing to more frequent, destructive, costly and deadly drought and extreme weather events. Rural and small town Americans have already witnessed these challenges, first-hand, and the threat to jobs and quality of life that accompany them.”

— Center For Rural Affairs

EPA Greenhouse Gas Plan Harmful To Economy, Ag

The Environmental Protection Agency’s latest greenhouse gas proposal will harm the nation’s economy, rural communities and America’s farm and ranch families if implemented, the American Farm Bureau Federation said last week.

The EPA’s attempt to impose a 30-percent reduction in carbon dioxide on the nation’s power plants will lead to higher energy prices. Farmers would face not just higher prices for electricity, but any energy-related input such as fertilizer. Rural electric cooperatives that rely on old coal plants for cheap electricity would be especially hard hit.

“U.S. agriculture will pay more for energy and fertilizer under this plan, but the harm won’t stop there,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said. “Effects will especially hit home in rural America.”

Today’s announcement follows EPA’s April “Waters of the Unites States” proposal that would unlawfully increase the agency’s role in regulating America’s farms under the Clean Water Act. AFBF responded with a formal campaign to “Ditch the Rule.”

“The greenhouse gas proposal is yet another expensive and expansive overreach by EPA into the daily lives of America’s farmers and ranchers,” Stallman said. “Our farmers and ranchers need a climate that fosters innovation, not unilateral regulations that cap our future.”

— American Farm Bureau

New agritourism law is win for Colorado ranchers, farmers and more

Colorado’s lawmakers have come together in a bi-partisan effort to support the growing agritourism industry of the farm and ranch community by passing House Bill 14-1280. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law today.

“Agritourism” is a fairly new term that showcases the intersection between travel and agriculture; it is a traveler’s authentic interaction with farmers, ranchers, hunters, gatherers, artists, naturalists and food enthusiasts that leads to the discovery of geographically distinctive food, drink and experience.

HB 1280 is the result of farmers and ranchers seeking a new level of protection from the State for on-site tourism activities. While in the past farmers were protected from legal action that resulted from mishaps related to tourism activities on the farm, House Bill 1280 offers new protection for the rapidly growing and profitable agritourism industry. Supported by the 2013 Heritage & Agricultural Strategic Plan, the proposed law limits the liability of farmers and ranchers in activities related to “agricultural recreation activities”, or, as redefined in the bill, agritourism.

The bill passed 35-0 in the Senate on April 21 and 64-0 in the House on March 12, and was signed into law on May 6, 2014. The sponsors of the bill were Representative Tim Dore (R-Elizabeth) and Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village)

— State of Colorado

Tractor Supply Company, 4-H Set New Donation Record

Tractor Supply Company, in partnership with National 4-H Council, recently announced the record-breaking fundraising results of its spring 2014 Paper Clover Campaign.

Tractor Supply Company, the largest retail farm and ranch supply store chain in the United States, raised an astounding $787,769 during the 12-day national in-store fundraiser, breaking the record for most monetary donations during the four-year collaboration.

Tractor Supply has raised almost $4 million for 4-H programs across the country through Paper Clover Campaigns in just four years.

Shoppers at Tractor Supply Company and Del’s Feed and Food Supply stores had the opportunity to purchase paper clovers between April 23 – May 4 for a $1 or more during checkout. Seventy percent of the funds raised benefit state and local 4-H youth development program activities, such as local camps and after-school programs, and granted scholarships for 4-H youth in the communities where Tractor Supply and Del’s stores are located. Thirty percent of the total funds are donated to National 4-H Council to help connect more young people across America to high-quality 4-H youth development programs.

— Tractor Supply Company

High times for hemp in Senate vote

By any measure, the U.S. hemp industry is playing a hot hand these days.

Retail sales of hemp products jumped by a whopping 24 percent last year, with Americans gobbling up a record amount of food, lotions, soaps, clothing, paper products and even auto parts made from hemp fiber.

While growing hemp remains illegal as a drug banned by the federal government, experimental plots have been planted in Kentucky and Colorado since Congress approved them for research purposes earlier this year.

And a bipartisan coalition is growing, with Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky boasting last year that he owns a hemp shirt and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack suggesting in March that Ukraine might ultimately provide the United States with a good supply of industrial hemp seeds.

On Thursday, the hemp industry showed its new muscle on Capitol Hill, convincing the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve a plan that would block federal agencies from spending any money to enforce anti-hemp laws in states that have received permission to grow the plant. The vote, on an amendment to a larger spending bill, was 22-8.

The proposal emerged after the Drug Enforcement Administration last month seized a shipment of Italian hemp seeds destined for Kentucky.

— McClatchy-Tribune Washington Bureau

Hillshire to talk with Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride

Hillshire Brands says it will hold separate talks with Greeley, Colo.,-based Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson Foods, as the two meat processing heavyweights engage in a bidding war for the maker of Jimmy Dean sausages and Ball Park hot dogs.

The announcement by Hillshire comes a day after Pilgrim’s Pride raised its bid to $55 per share, or $6.8 billion, from $45 per share. That tops Tyson’s offer of $50 per share, or $6.2 billion, made last week.

Those values are based on Hillshire’s 123 million shares outstanding. Pilgrim’s Pride puts the total value of its new bid at $7.7 billion. Tyson Foods values its proposal at $6.8 billion, including debt.

The takeover bids by Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson Foods are being driven by the desirability of brand-name, convenience products like Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches. Those types of products are more profitable than fresh meat, such as chicken breasts, where there isn’t as much wiggle room to pad prices.

While Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson both sell such products, their businesses have been more focused on supplying supermarkets and restaurant chains.

— The Associated Press

Corn Creeps Lower

After another week of favorable weather, US farmers have planted over 95% of this year’s corn crop, increasing the likelihood that this year’s harvest could be a record-breaker. The USDA will update its corn production estimate next week, which could show record-high projections for the size of the US crop.

As a result of the potential large supply looming, the price for this fall’s corn crop fell to the lowest level since January, trading Friday down near $4.45 per bushel.

— Walt and Alex Breitinger, commodity futures brokers with Paragon Investments in Silver Lake, Kan.

Feeder Cattle at New Record

Rising demand for young cattle, or feeder cattle, has corralled prices to an all-time high again this week, with August feeder cattle charging over $2.00 per pound. A nationwide shortage of calves and high beef prices have encouraged cattle feeders to pay up for young cattle.

This week’s corn decline also helped to support feeder cattle prices, as cheap corn makes it easier to profitably fatten up cattle, even if farmers have to pay record-high prices for the feeders.

— Walt and Alex Breitinger, commodity futures brokers with Paragon Investments in Silver Lake, Kan.

USDA approves Checkoff ads

Last February R-CALF USA submitted a complaint to USDA alleging unlawful use of U.S. beef checkoff program dollars in advertisements promoting “North American Beef.”

The complaint alleged that at least $5,000 collected from cattle producers under the beef checkoff program was used to help fast-food restaurateur Wendy’s promote and advertise “North American Beef.”

USDA responded that using beef checkoff program funds to pay for promotional advertisements featuring “North American beef” complies with the beef checkoff program. They viewed the advertisements as referencing, not promoting, North American beef.

The advertisements stated, “Wendy’s serves 100% pure North American beef that is always fresh and never frozen.”

The USDA prohibits U.S. cattle producers from using their beef checkoff funds to promote and advertise their USA beef – beef that is born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.

“USDA does not even have a definition for “North American beef,” Bullard said.


Bennet: House Failures on Immigration Hurting Families, Economy

With the one-year anniversary of Senate passage of its bipartisan immigration bill approaching, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet is once again calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to take action.

“Our immigration system is broken. That’s something that both Republicans and Democrats agree on. Yet, the House of Representatives continues to drag its feet on commonsense reforms that will boost our economy and protect families.

“Almost a year ago, the Senate came together – Republicans and Democrats alike – to support a bill that secures our borders, reforms the visa system to maintain our competitiveness in the global economy, and protects workers and families. In the time since, the House has not taken action. In fact, its only real action came one year ago today with a vote to defund the DACA program that support DREAMers — kids who were brought to this country through no fault of their own and know no other country but the United States.

Bennet is a member of the bipartisan “Group of 8” that introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 last April following several months of discussions and negotiations with a diverse group of stakeholders.

— Office of Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.