Centennial, Colo. – May 8, 2013 – The 2013 Colorado legislative session has finally come to a close, and the Colorado Farm Bureau has been working throughout the session to protect agriculture and rural Colorado. “This session has kept us busy, and we feel that we have been successful representing agriculture, our farmers and ranchers, and the rural way of life,” said Don Shawcroft, President of Colorado Farm Bureau.

Prior to the general assembly convening, the Colorado Farm Bureau set priority areas including water, energy, fiscal policy/budget, property rights, animal welfare and wildlife. Bills were introduced that affected all of these areas, and with the guidance of the policy implementation committee and the board of directors, Colorado Farm Bureau staff have worked diligently through these bills.

On May 8, Colorado Farm Bureau member leaders met with Governor Hickenlooper to ask for him to veto SB13-252, which would mandate that 20 percent of electricity in the state come from renewable sources. “This requirement will undoubtedly increase the cost of energy for family farmers, ranchers, and residents of rural Colorado. Sadly, this was done without the voice of agriculture being heard,” said Shawcroft. “The member families of Colorado Farm Bureau believe in an all-of-the-above energy policy that increases energy production from wind, solar, nuclear, hydroelectric, coal and natural gas. We realize the need for reliable, affordable energy, and believe it will take this all-of-the-above approach to meet that goal. However, mandating the use of a specific source of energy is the wrong way to address our growing energy needs.”

This bill is currently sitting on the Governor’s desk, waiting on either his approval or veto.

Recently, HB13-1269, dealing with mineral rights, was defeated in the Senate after passing through the House. “Farm Bureau’s first and foremost concern is the provision in the bill that changes the definition of waste. This change would devalue a mineral right if COGCC regulation prevents the resource from being developed. This change, which is contrary to our state’s very core belief in the recognition of mineral rights as property, will have a tremendous impact on mineral property rights as it reverses the very basis of access, devaluing the mineral owner’s property right without any compensation,” said Shawcroft.

He continued, “HB-1269 flies in the face of the traditions, beliefs and history of property rights in Colorado. As sure as the sun sets in the west, I, and my family, will continue to farm, providing the food, fiber and fuel for the citizens of Colorado; mineral rights just might be the lifeline we need to stay in the business we love.”

Earlier in the session, a bill dealing with codifying animal husband practices and a bill that would require the labeling of some genetically engineered food were defeated.

“Defeating HB-1231 was a huge win for our state’s dairy farmers. We believe that our dairymen listen to consumers concerns, applying the latest scientific research, and utilizing generations of practical experience to provide the best care for their livestock, and putting animal husbandry practices into state statute is not beneficial to agriculture,” said Shawcroft. “This bill would have not have improved animal welfare and could have hindered innovation in the dairy industry.”

He added, “We are glad that we still have a friendly atmosphere for the dairy industry here in Colorado, and look forward to the dairies that can now move into the state and stimulate the economy while providing jobs for hardworking Coloradoans.”

CFB also closely monitored a bill that would have increased the cost of food for Colorado citizens by requiring labeling of foods containing GMOs. Shawcroft said, “Colorado Farm Bureau believes consumers should have a choice in the food that they buy, and we believe that this exists through the USDA Organic and voluntary labeling programs. Labeling is really a topic for discussion on the federal level through the use of science and reason, not at the state level based on emotion. If new standards are set, they need to be applied uniformly across the country, not only to a patchwork of states.”

Wildlife issues impact agriculture and landowners who provide habitat and open space, and there were two bills pertaining to this issue this year: the Habitat Stamp Program, which was up for renewal, and updating the Landowner Voucher Program.

Wildlife issues impact agriculture and landowners who provide habitat and open space, and legislation was debated about an important program that provides incentives for landowners to provide quality wildlife habitat. Due to such factors as limited feed availability due to drought conditions and increased development pressures on habitat, wildlife are more dependent on private lands than ever before. The Colorado General Assembly and the Colorado Division of Parks & Wildlife (CDPW) have recognized the important role private landowners play in wildlife management and have implemented an incentive program to encourage landowners to continue to provide critical habitat. The Landowner Preference Program exists to support the critical role that private lands play in maintaining wildlife populations and providing hunting opportunities in Colorado.

Legislation was passed this year that replaced the current landowner preference programs for hunting licenses with a single program that sets eligibility standards for providing habitat, creates an allocation structure for vouchers to be granted based on acreage, requires unused licenses not redeemed by vouchers to be made available to the general public and authorizes the CDPW to disqualify landowners and sportsmen who do not comply with the law or the rules of the program. Landowners who are currently registered in the existing program are grandfathered in until July 1, 2016. SB-188 is the result of a multi-year process established by the Colorado Division of Parks & Wildlife when they convened the Big Game Landowner Voucher Program Review Committee to examine issues associated with the landowner voucher program and identify appropriate improvements. The committee was made up of individuals representing sportsmen, landowners, outfitters and wildlife managers.

Water was a big issue during this year’s session and Colorado Farm Bureau proved to be a leader on this issue. “Throughout the session Colorado Farm Bureau was at the front of the pack on many of the water issues,” said Shawcroft. “We were able to pass legislation that enhanced protection of senior water rights as well as added tools to keep water on the farm while still finding a way to meet the growing demand for water from our city cousins.”

Agriculture contributes about $40 billion to Colorado’s total economy and more than 85 percent of Colorado’s water use is for agriculture. There is growing pressure to transfer more of that water for municipal and industrial uses, and Colorado Farm Bureau worked on a number of bills that protected agricultural water rights in a variety of ways. This included legislation that provided alternative options to agricultural buy and dry, a bill that clarified adjudication standards for water storage, a bill that protected old irrigation water rights whose decrees were ambiguous regarding the amount of acreage that may be irrigated under the water right, a measure to incentivize the conservation of designated groundwater, and legislation that protected old irrigation water rights, with an erroneously located point of diversion by allowing the owners to apply for a correction in the point of diversion.

Some of the most hotly contested bills this year were those that dealt with second amendment rights. “We were very disappointed that the Colorado legislature felt the need to infringe on the second amendment rights of Coloradoans. We will continue to support second amendment rights,” said Shawcroft.

The Colorado Legislative Session meets for 120 days from January to May, and the last day was held on May 8. “Even though the Colorado session is over, we will continue to work with legislators to promote agriculture, preserve our family farms and protect our Colorado way of life,” Shawcroft stated.