Agriculture is a key industry for the future of Colorado. We will work to create new business opportunities for Colorado's farmers and ranchers, spur innovation and make our rural communities a great place to live and prosper. Strong rural communities, with schools, hospitals, restaurants, and businesses help create a sustainable long-term local economy that can attract a younger generation to continue the proud tradition of farming and ranching in Colorado.
* Take advantage of new renewable energy opportunities.
* Water: Protect rights, quality, and ensure capacity.
* Make sure Colorado's needs are reflected in the 2012 Farm Bill.
* Support Agriculture Conservation Easements.
* Stop losing agricultural land: Pinon Canyon
"A strong Colorado economy depends on a prosperous rural Colorado. We are committed to ensuring that Colorado's rural communities are vibrant and thriving economically, and recognize the unprecedented opportunities at hand to support this revitalization."
Agriculture in Colorado is about more than just crops and livestock. Agriculture is also a way of life, a significant engine for individual entrepreneurship and a foundation for our economy in the West. Agriculture is interdependent on the other key variables that make for a healthy community: education, health care and economic development. Thriving rural communities and sustainable agricultural policies contribute significantly to the health and well-being of everyone in Colorado. Farmers and ranchers in Colorado are the producers of our food and fiber; they are the original conservationists of our land and resources, and part of the fabric of our state. As a core element of our economic development strategy we must focus our efforts to promote Colorado products.
While the agriculture industry has endured some turbulence from fluctuating dairy and agriculture prices, to record high input costs for all producers over the last half decade, Colorado's farmers and ranchers, through their innovative strategies and commitment to proven science-based solutions, have continued to produce efficiently and profitably. Undoubtedly, there are challenges. We must address the competing interests for land and especially for water. Most importantly, we realize that providing long-term fiscal stability to our agriculture community is critical to the success of these industries, and will enable our farmers, ranchers, and rural communities to prosper and grow.
Strategies and Solutions
Creating New Opportunities for Prosperity: We must support Colorado farmers and ranchers to be competitive and capitalize on new income opportunities in local, national and global markets. This is possible by connecting producers with consumers in both domestic and foreign markets. A thriving agricultural community will have a direct relationship to growth and expansion of our rural communities. A robust agricultural community helps create more than food and resources, it helps to support schools, hospitals, restaurants, and businesses, all of which significantly improve the quality-of-life for our rural and urban communities.
We will work to increase agricultural exports and invest in research and development to strengthen farm income and profitability. In part, we will achieve this by utilizing higher education assets such as Colorado State University (CSU), one of the premier research and land grant universities in the nation. As the economy develops, we will work to advance education opportunities to our rural communities, in order to help equip tomorrow's farmers and ranchers with the best research, science-based solutions, and business support for their enterprises.
We will pursue all avenues of research and development within Colorado's higher education system, the federal Department of Agriculture and other institutions to make Colorado a recognized leader in agriculture research. Such an example is drought resistant crops, which could pave the way for the future of agriculture in Colorado. As technology continues to advance, we must also invest in broadband access and availability to connect all parts of our communities. We will work to identify public-private partnerships and federal grants to integrate access.
Renewable Energy: We will work with Colorado's industries, energy businesses, and private landowners in order to lay the foundation for the infrastructure needed to transmit renewable and sustainable energy sources like wind and solar to support a stronger rural economy. See Energy Policy.
Protecting and Conserving Colorado Water: We recognize the need for a collaborative approach on water issues, since protection for water rights, quality, quantity, and capacity are all critical to the economic success of Colorado. Fortunately, farmers and ranchers know better than most, that cooperation is essential when it comes to protecting our water resources. Just as our renewable energy such as solar and wind need a modernized electrical grid to effectively transmit power across the country, our farmers, ranchers, and local communities need reliable storage and efficient water delivery systems. See Water Policy.
Conservation & Job Creation in Rural Communities: A 2008 report from the Trust for Public Land in Colorado concluded that for every $1 invested into conservation programs, the State received $6 in benefits. See Conservation Policy.
The USDA recently announced $6.7 million in grant and loan funding rewarded to farms in Colorado to promote job creation. This federal funding could potentially create hundreds of full-time jobs. We will work closely with our industries and businesses to leverage and maximize the impact of these federal funds, in order to advance our economic recovery in Colorado. Colorado is poised to take advantage of these opportunities and we should make every effort to do so.
The 2008 Farm Bill: This legislation provides a safety-net for agriculture producers through traditional commodity programs, funding for specialty crops, and programs to advance bio-fuel and renewable energy research and development. We know that Congress has begun to discuss the next Farm Bill, which is scheduled to be renewed in 2012. While budget constraints will dictate much of the framework, we must ensure that our most successful provisions remain, and think creatively about how to shape new provisions that will provide additional support and opportunity for our producers in Colorado. We will work to maximize the farm safety net and incentives to obtain the maximum benefit for Colorado's agricultural producers as negotiations begin on the 2012 Farm Bill.
Agriculture Conservation Easements: More than 1.8 million acres of Colorado farms were converted to other uses in the past decade, placing Colorado third in the nation for the amount of agriculture land lost. We must preserve our agriculture land for future generations. We will work closely with conservation organizations to help Colorado's ranchers and farmers protect their land, encourage ongoing agriculture production and recognize the importance of prohibiting or severely limiting any practice such as subdivision or development that would damage the land's agricultural or conservation value and productivity. We will also encourage industries to become working partners and a valuable resource that can help significantly by contributing private funds towards conservation easements. This will support farmers to keep their land within the family, and conserve land for future generations.
Benefits of conservation easements include:
* Protecting private property rights to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to remain in the agriculture production industry.
* Significant financial benefits through the reduction of federal income taxes, gift taxes, and estate taxes as well as state income tax credits.
* Support robust fish and wildlife populations, reduce watershed, and help curb the effects of pollution.
While the projected benefits of conservation easements are of good intention, we are cognizant of the need for an independent, third party to verify and oversee the easement process, to ensure that our ranchers and farmers are compensated with a fair market value, and that the land is properly conserved.
Economic Impacts of Land Conservation: Farms and ranches also support a robust outdoor recreation economy, generating tourists from around the globe and supporting thousands of jobs throughout the State. There are more that 593,000 resident hunters and anglers in Colorado that generate $1.2 billion in direct spending annually. This creates an additional $2.1 billion ripple effect on the Colorado economy for a total economic impact of $3.6 billion within the State.
Active outdoor recreation in Colorado also provides significant economic benefits, supporting 107,000 jobs, generating nearly $500 million in annual state tax revenues, and producing $7.6 billion in retail sales and services across Colorado. Colorado is a national leader in land conservation and park creation thanks to the combination of funds from local, state and federal programs. These efforts should be continued and supported by Colorado's next Governor.
Protecting Colorado's Ranchers: A Position on Pinon Canyon: As most ranchers and livestock operators in Colorado know, there is a great deal of concern about the Army's plans to expand the boundaries of Fort Carson's training facilities at Pinon Canyon in southern Colorado. It is not enough to oppose the use of eminent domain (condemnation) at Pinon Canyon. In an already fragile economy, it is not fair to add more pressure to landowners in the area. That is why we support the state legislative ban on the lease or transfer of state lands for expansion, why we support the Congressional moratorium on expansion activities and why we are opposed to the additional loss of productive land in agriculture and livestock production that would follow from Army expansion. It is important for the communities most impacted by the Army's planned expansion in Southern Colorado to have the ultimate say in whether they would agree to any expansion proposal. It has been clear to us that so far, communities in Southern Colorado are adamantly opposed to the loss of this land (even through leasing) and we believe Colorado's next Governor must stand with them.