By Senator Mark Udall
In the arid West, we often say that water is more valued than gold. Whether urban or rural, Coloradans care about the water we use to drink, recreate and irrigate. That's why we take very seriously the management of our water--and our natural resources generally.
The Coloradans who produce the food we eat have been among the best stewards for these resources, helping to protect them for future generations. Agriculture producers have a special interest in protecting our natural resources to ensure the quality and sustainability of their livelihoods.
Americans have a corresponding interest in ensuring our farmers and ranchers have the tools and resources they need to sustainably raise the agricultural products we rely on. This is especially true as the global need for them grows stronger, placing more pressure on the resources we dedicate to farming and ranching.
Every five years, Congress confers with agriculture interests from across the nation to develop a comprehensive set of policies to help agricultural communities produce the food, fiber and fuel that can strengthen our rural economies.
In the 2008 Farm Bill, Congress worked with the agriculture community to craft a conservation plan that would help farmers and ranchers get more out of the soil and water, while preventing erosion and reducing the need for irrigation, fertilizer and regulatory requirements.
Voluntary conservation programs play an important role in our farm policy as we look to our farmers and ranchers to increase food production, in order to meet growing worldwide food demand. By encouraging these practices, we will help farmers and preserve water quality, clean air and wildlife habitat in the long term, all while providing flexibility for our small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches to improve production and minimize direct farm costs.
As my colleagues on Congress' spending committees and members of the congressional deficit-reduction panel look for ways to prioritize our country's spending, they need look no further than Colorado to see how these programs make it easier for farmers and ranchers to be partners in protecting the clean water and air that we all value.
For example, conservation programs have helped reduce soil erosion by millions of tons over a quarter of a century and have also reduced the application of fertilizers by hundreds of thousands of tons.
This means cleaner air and less runoff contaminating streams and rivers.
These conservation efforts have also protected wildlife ecosystems and helped to boost agriculture production while saving producers money.
Make no mistake: We must find ways to save taxpayer dollars and reduce the debt. But we can't afford to eat our seed corn. We need to protect valuable programs like conservation, which ultimately will save us money by ensuring that our farmland can feed and clothe future generations.
We should remain focused on ways to enhance conservation practices that help farmers remain good stewards of the land, while taking a hard look at how we can make all farm and nutrition programs work more efficiently in the context of the overall federal budget.
Conservation programs that help farmers and ranchers comply with environmental and health standards that protect our communities' well-being, while assisting our farmers maintain the land, need to be given a fair shake to ensure their long-term benefits for everyone.