Visits Highlighted Importance of Agricultural Research, Conservation Efforts, and Immigration Reform
Denver, CO - Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet visited farms in Northern Colorado and on the Eastern Plains to meet with local producers about issues facing the agriculture industry. Bennet stopped by Mertens Family Wheat Farm, toured important wildlife habitat areas with local sportsmen groups, and ended the day at La Luna Dairy Farm in Wellington.
"Farmers and ranchers across the state are facing serious challenges as they work day in and day out to provide our country with reliable food sources," Bennet said. "Agriculture is a major economic driver in Colorado, which is why it's important that we meet with producers to discuss their concerns. Congress must continue working to increase funding for agricultural research, strengthen and support important conservation programs, and ensure that producers have access to the labor they need."
Bennet visited the Mertens Family Wheat Farm, along with researchers from Colorado State University, to discuss partnerships with Colorado Wheat to develop crop varieties that can thrive in the state's arid climate and fend off pests. Particular focus was paid to how the industry is addressing wheat stem sawfly, an insect damaging wheat crops across the Plains. A large part of the success of wheat farming in Colorado relies on continued investment in research, which enables producers to stay one step ahead of pests, increase productivity, and support agricultural jobs.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Bennet has continuously advocated for funding agricultural research, including research done by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Colorado State University. As a member of the conference committee that finalized the 2014 Farm Bill, Bennet also fought for important tools for wheat farmers, including funding for agricultural research, export market development, conservation programs, and strengthening crop insurance.
Bennet then toured several different habitat areas with Pheasants Forever and representatives from Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, the Mule Deer Foundation, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers to see efforts undertaken to foster habitat for small game and pollinators on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land. Pheasants Forever also presented Bennet with an award for leadership on conservation.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs-especially CRP-are vital to protecting soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat in Colorado. Pheasants Forever promotes active management of CRP lands to create a diversity of plant life that will attract pollinators and wild game year after year. This approach is good for conservation outcomes, and also for local economies that depend on sportsmen hunting game.
Finally, Bennet stopped by La Luna Dairy Farm to meet with area producers and business leaders to discuss the need for immigration reform. Many Colorado producers face persistent workforce shortages due to Congress' inability to fix our broken immigration system. For example, dairies like La Luna produce milk year round, but the current guest worker program for agricultural labor does not accommodate that reality. According to the Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado producers incur up to $107 million in crop and livestock losses annually due to labor shortages. Producers often complain that workers received through H2A program, the government's agricultural guest worker program, are insufficient in number and untimely in their arrival.
Senator Bennet served on the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight, which crafted an immigration bill that included provisions to overhaul the guest worker program for farms and ranches. Specifically, the legislation moves the agricultural guest worker program from the Department of Labor to the Department of Agriculture, creates 3-year visas for workers, and incents workers to stay in agriculture by placing workers committed to the industry on a quicker path toward legalization. The bill passed the Senate by 68 votes, but was never taken up in the House of Representatives.