No farms, no food

Senator, local farmers, ranchers weigh in on farm bill

No farms, no food.

Those are the words on a plaque sitting on the desk of U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar in Washington, D.C. Salazar, D-Colo., told a group of Northwest Colorado farmers on Friday that the words serve as a reminder that "we shouldn't take our food security for granted," and that proactive steps need to be made to aid the U.S. farmer.

His words came during a "listening session" Friday evening at the American Legion Post 62. Salazar, along with Colorado Farm Bureau president Alan Foutz, met with local farmers and ranchers to discuss the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, or farm bill.

The bill, which expires in September 2007, is the major agricultural legislation in the U.S. and outlines provisions on commodity programs, trade, conservation, credit, agricultural research, food stamps and marketing.

Its importance is measured, the senator said, not only in providing help to farmers and consumers, but also in ensuring that the U.S. doesn't become dependent on other countries for food supplies, a situation that would raise similar national security concerns as America's dependence on the Middle East for oil.

"We can't let the same thing happen to our food," Salazar said. "We do not want to turn over control of our food to foreign countries."

One way to avoid those trappings is to take part in discussion sessions like Friday's, during which the senator kicked around ideas and new provisions in hopes of broadening and strengthening the farm bill.

"It's easy for people to sit in Washington D.C. ... but at the end of the day the people that know the most are the people on the ground. And (those people) are the farmers and ranchers of America," Salazar said.

Friday's discussion falls in line with 10 other meetings the senator has taken part in around the state. It came during Salazar's tour Friday of Summit County, Kremmling, Walden, Steamboat Springs and Craig to discuss issues relating to agriculture, energy and veterans' affairs.

Agriculture accounts for about $100 billion, or 1 percent, of all government spending. More than half of that 1 percent is allocated toward nutritional programs.

Foutz told the crowd -- about 30 attended the forum -- that Colorado Farm Bureau supports a one-year extension of the farm bill. This would give ample time to shape a new bill around World Trade Organization negotiations.

He said there is a "definite link" between world trade and the American farming industry, and that Farm Bureau advocates policies that "continue to level the playing field" for U.S. farmers and ranchers.

Wesley Counts, a Moffat County wheat farmer, told Salazar that more provisions need to be inserted into the farm bill to shore up faults in crop insurance and to encourage wheat farming. He said politicos need to reach a happy lawmakers between designating land for conservation and producing crop.

"Now it's either/or," Counts said. "You've got to do either wheat or livestock."

Pat Hejl, of Rangely, lobbied for the Senate to stop a bill from becoming law that would prevent horse slaughtering. The proposal passed in the House of Representatives by a nearly 2-to-1 vote, Salazar said.

She said some policy makers are out-of-touch with the needs of rural America.

"Just because they live in Boston doesn't mean there aren't horses here that need to be slaughtered," Hejl said.

Keeping with the same topic, Shirley Lawton, of Moffat County, told Salazar that she feared the proposed ban on horse slaughtering could lead to similar acts preventing the slaughtering of cattle and other animals.

It's a scenario that Nick Theos, of Meeker, can envision.

"Where do you stop?" Theos said.

"What the hell are you going to eat back there in Boston?"

Salazar said more education is necessary to teach the American consumer about the rigors that go into producing food supplies, and that more discussions need to occur between residents and the Colorado congressional delegation.

Foutz and Salazar said they were committed to improving the farm bill for the benefit of family farmers, ranchers, consumers and local economies.

Congress reconvenes on Nov. 13.

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