There’s already a lot to think about when filling out your ballot this year, but here’s something else to consider: How do the initiatives and candidates you are voting on affect agriculture in Colorado? Our small and mid-size farmers and ranchers have been significantly impacted during the pandemic, plus there are two national acts tied up in Congress and one statewide measure that may impact them in a big way.
“One of the hazards of this heated political environment we’re in is that there are so many hot button issues that people choose to pay attention to,” says Brian Coppom, Boulder County Farmers Market executive director. “Agriculture is slipping under the radar. But our farmers and ranchers are experiencing significant issues. If they’re not resolved, there will be long-term impacts that will be harder to fix than to prevent.”
First up are the two national acts that have been introduced in the House, but need a Senate sponsor to move forward. Cue our two senatorial candidates, incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner and former Gov. John Hickenlooper. The measures are the Local and Regional Farmer and Market Support Act (Local Farmer Act) and the Strengthening Local Processing Act, both of which have the potential to support small farms and ranches. These are especially important as the little guys and gals have been largely left out of previous measures, like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Programs, which provided aid to farmers.
“There’s been so much money directed to the large industry operations and very little of the relief funds trickle down to the regional and community scale farmers we see. The Local Farmer Act seeks to rectify that and explicitly directs funds to small and mid-size operations,” Coppom says.
Besides directing money specifically toward smaller farms that sell to local markets, the Local Farmer Act provides emergency response grants for farmers’ markets and local food enterprises that have been affected by the pandemic, as well as expands outreach and resources for BIPOC farmers and ranchers. Coppom was on phone calls with both Gardner and Hickenlooper when they were asked about sponsoring a companion bill in the senate. He says that Gardner said he would look into it, and that Hickenlooper expressed support for directing aid to small and mid-size growers.
The Strengthening Local Processing Act would make animal processing more accessible to small ranchers, who often have to drive several hours to get their animals slaughtered and butchered. “It’s a common complaint amongst ranchers that they can’t efficiently get their animals processed. There’s pretty widespread recognition that the industry is under capacity,” Coppom says. This measure would direct $20 million at organizations working to solve these problems. As these types of issues typically aren’t on a politician’s radar, Coppom says that neither Gardner nor Hickenlooper have weighed in on whether they’d support this measure in the senate.
On the state ballot, Proposition 114 would reintroduce gray wolves to Colorado. While proponents say that bringing back the wolves could potentially help restore the ecosystem, opponents, including many ranchers, fear that the wolves would kill their livestock. “I’m against reintroducing the wolves,” says Jason Nauert, director of the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat in Colorado Springs, and butcher consultant to several restaurants around the state. “They’re going to annihilate the cattle, the sheep, whatever that rancher is raising. And ranchers can’t afford to put up higher fences [to protect their animals]—their margins are low as hell as it is. Those poor ranchers are going to start losing money.”
Coppom says that the wolves issue is too complicated for the farmers’ market to take a stance on but agrees that most ranchers oppose the measure.
However you decide to vote on the above measures and candidates, be sure you get your ballot turned in by 7 p.m. on Election Day, November 3.
On October 20, the Colorado Department of Agriculture announced $1 million in grant funding for Colorado farmers, ranchers, food hubs, and processors to help them adjust to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The response and rebuild grants will be administered by the independent Colorado Farm & Food Systems Response & Rebuild Fund; applications are open and will be accepted through November 9. Learn more here.