ICYMI: Gardner Speaks on Senate Floor About Importance of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. – Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) spoke on the Senate floor about the agriculture crisis in America and the importance of agriculture to Colorado.
Click here to view Senator Gardner’s remarks.
“Thank you, Mr. President. There are a few things that I enjoy more than bragging about my hometown. I live in a little town called Yuma, Colorado, it’s out on the Eastern Plains, it’s a town of about 3,500 people. If maybe you over exaggerate just a little bit, it reaches 4,000.
“It's out in the middle of the high plains of Colorado, 4,000 feet in elevation, 40 miles or so from the Kansas-Nebraska border. It's a farming community, 100% farming. Everything related to that town is farming. Even the clothing stores are related to farming because if you don't have a strong agriculture economy, nobody is buying blue jeans. Nobody is going up to the car dealership to buy a pickup, if the bushel of corn isn’t priced right. And so everything we do, everything we do in that town is related to agriculture and farming.
“My family comes from a background of a farm equipment business. Started a business, it was about 101 years old this year by my great-grandfather, and my time working in that dealership started roughly when I was in seventh, eighth grade, and they let me do some very complicated tasks, high-skill tasks they let me perform – cleaning the bathroom, sweeping the floors. I did that throughout my time in eighth grade, high school, college and if I go back today, I'm sure they would let me do those same jobs – clean the bathrooms and sweep the floors.
“Part of that is because I was selling the wrong parts to a lot of farmers that would come into the dealership and maybe they were just keeping me off of the parts counter for the time being. In fact, maybe that's why people voted for me is to get me off the parts counter, and quit selling the wrong parts.
“Over my time working at the dealership we witnessed a lot of good times in agriculture. I can remember one time going into my dad and granddad’s office saying, ‘Hey, you know what? The economy is really good right now, the price of corn is really high right now. We ought to order a whole bunch of farm equipment, a whole bunch of pieces of implements, tillage equipment, a whole bunch of tractors, combines and have them on the lot so we can take advantage of the good times in agriculture.’ My granddad paused, and he looks at my dad and he says, ‘No, you know, I don't think we should do that, because I don't think times are going to be good next year.’ And you know what? They were right.
“This is back in the, I think probably mid-90's. They’d seen it coming because of their experience in the business, the ebbs and flows of agriculture, the good times, the bad times. They were able to recognize, through their own experience, what different economic indicators meant to them and how they could forecast using their experience what was going to happen in the farm world the next year, and so they decided not to order all that brand-new equipment. They decided not to order the tractors, and the combines and tillage equipment, and it was a good thing because the next year it wasn't that great. And if this 18-year-old, 19-year-old kid had his way, we’d a had a whole lot of iron we were paying interest on that year without being able to sell it. Colorado is pretty blessed with 4,000 companies involved in agriculture, 173,000 jobs in Colorado directly involved in agriculture. The state has more than 35,000 farms and 31 million acres used for farming and ranching.
“If you look at the Colorado business economic outlook, the net farm income of ranchers and farmers in 2016 estimated, though, this year to be the lowest it's been since 1986, and the projections for 2017 are even lower.
“You know I grew up, of course, as a kid in the 1980's and watching perhaps the hardest times agriculture in the U.S. had faced in decades. Watching a lot of people that I knew my whole life going out of business, people having to sell the farm because of what was happening in the 1980's leading to a banking crisis in agriculture in the 1980's, watching banks that I had grown up with close, and I'm concerned though in this country that we're going to see the same thing again, beginning in 2016 into 2017, and then into 2018 next year. And I'm very worried that those tough times that we saw in the 1980's, some of the tough with the good times we saw in the 1990's, and some really good years just a few years ago, are going to seem like distant memories come later this summer and into next year if we don't do something.
“I had the opportunity to visit with the Colorado commissioner of agriculture in my office last week, a gentleman by the name of Don Brown. Don Brown is from my hometown. That little town of Yuma, Colorado, has done pretty well for itself, 3,000 people; it has the State Commissioner of Agriculture from that hometown. The previous Commissioner of Agriculture, a gentleman by the name of John Stulp was from my hometown of Yuma. Both of them grew up in agriculture in that area, understanding what it's like on the high plains, understanding what it's like to live through good times and bad times. But both of them today I think would tell you they're very concerned as well about what happens over the next year, the next two years.
“You know, it wasn't that long ago when we saw some of the highest-priced commodities this country has ever seen, at least in a very long time. “Golden years of agriculture,” some people said, where corn and wheat were priced high. People were able to pay their bills, buy new equipment. Commodity prices, they don't always stay that high though. The one thing that a farmer will tell you is the price of a piece of farm equipment stays high, the price of fertilizer seems to stay high, and when prices come down on their commodities, the other prices, the inputs stay high, and they find themselves in significant trouble.
“The price of corn today is estimated to be about $3.15 per bushel. Less than that’s what it was in 2016. Less than half of the ten year high price of corn of $6.86 in 2012, just a few years ago. To put that in an historical context, the price of corn in 2016 at $3.15 is lower than the price of corn in 1974, the year I was born, when it was $3.20. The price of corn in 2016 was five cents lower than it was the year I was born, 1974. It's the same story across the board for Colorado. Wheat prices are down more than $1 from 2015 to 2016 alone and down more than 50% since 2012, and I can guarantee you, even though I may have sold a lot of wrong parts at the implement dealership, those wrong parts didn't come down in price 50%.
“The livestock industry has seen similar trends with cattle prices at their lowest level since 2010. In farming and agriculture, a lot of times you might see a year where the price of corn is high but the price of cattle is low or price of other commodities are high and price of cattle is low, but when cattle are high maybe other commodities are low, and farmers who have a diverse operation are able to offset the lows and highs with the diverse operation. But not this year, and maybe it doesn't even look like that can be the case next year. The declines in the state's agriculture economy are not unique to Colorado. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, revenues have decreased for agriculture nationwide by more than 10% since 2014.
“Recently, The Wall Street Journal wrote this of the crisis, and I'm going to show the headline of The Wall Street Journal piece just a couple of weeks ago. The Wall Street Journal has an article titled: ‘The Next American Farm Bust is Upon Us.’
“We've had a lot of debates on this floor. We've had debates about cabinet members. We've had debates about resolutions of disapprovals. We're talking about a lot of things, but there's a lot of suffering that’s beginning in the heartland of America right now. A lot of farmers and ranchers are suffering and they’re worried about how they're going to survive not just into the next year, but how they're going to survive into the next couple of months. The tell-tale signs of difficult times are all around us in agriculture, and this article, ‘The Next American Farm Bust is Upon Us’ begins to tell the story.
“Here's what the Wall Street Journal said: ‘The Farm Belt is hurtling toward a milestone: Soon there will be fewer than two million farms in America for the first time since pioneers moved westward after the Louisiana Purchase. Across the heartland, a multiyear slump in prices for corn, wheat and other farm commodities brought on by a glut of grain world-wide is pushing many farmers further into debt. Some are shutting down, raising concerns that the next few years could bring the biggest wave of farm closures since the 1980s.’
“The article highlights the story of a 5th generation farmer from western Kansas. I mentioned that my hometown is about 40 miles away from Kansas and it looks very similar to the eastern Colorado plains that I live in.
“Here's his story: ‘From his father porch, the 56-year-old can see the wind-swept spot where his great grandparents sod house stood in 1902 when they planted the first of the 1200 acres on which the family farm’s alfalfa, sorghum and wheat today. Even after harvesting one of their best wheat crops ever last year, thanks to plentiful rain and a mild winter, Mr. Scott isn't sure how long they can afford to keep farming that ground.’
“There's a lot of work that we need to do to make sure that Mr. Scott, farmers that live in my community around the eastern and Western Slope of Colorado will be able to survive into the next year, steps that we can help to make sure that we are addressing this crisis head on before it begins and develops into a full-blown farm crisis like we saw in the 1980's.
“We must have serious regulatory reform. In a letter I received from the Colorado Farm Bureau, the letter read: ‘The Colorado Farm Bureau recognizes a major impediment to the success of American agricultural industries and the national economy is rampant federal regulation and the associated cost of compliance.’
“We've got to allow U.S. agriculture to flow to markets around the world, so in addition to that regulatory reform, and some of which we're undertaking now through resolutions of disapproval, by peeling back the overreach of government, we have to allow farmers access to more markets and that's a concern that we all should share. What's going to happen with our trade policy in this country? Because if we decide to shut off trade in this country, if we decide to close access and avenues to new markets, the first people who are going to be hurt is that farmer and rancher in Colorado, in Kansas, throughout the Midwest of the United States.
“We have to have the opportunity to be able to send that bushel of wheat to Asia, that bushel of corn around the globe to make sure that we are providing value-added opportunities for the world's best farmers and ranchers.
“Opening up new markets for Colorado and American agriculture is a clear way that we can support rural economies, and let's be clear what I said at the beginning of these comments. There are farm communities that have diversity in their economic opportunities. A farm economy may not be 100% dependent on farms and ranches, maybe they have tourism, maybe they’ve got some recreational opportunities, or maybe they are close to a big city where people can live there and commute. But there are a lot of towns across the United States that are solely 100% committed to agriculture. They don't have access to anything else but farming and ranching, and when the price is down, the town is down, and when the town is down main street erodes, and when main street erodes, it affects our schools and our hospitals and our relationships and our families. And somebody has to be looking out for our farmers and ranchers because the next American farm bust is upon us.
“We have to take the necessary steps to pass a farm bill that gets our policies right when the new one expires and the current one expires in 2016 and these discussions are just now underway. And so if we have regulatory reform, if we open up new trade opportunities for agriculture, and we give farmers certainty, those are three things that we can do to help address this crisis before it becomes a full-blown crisis.
“We got to make sure to our farmers and ranchers that we support them, that we have their backs in good times and in bad times. Giving farmers certainty through the farm bill, through a regulatory landscape that provides certainty and relief, is important.
“I talked to a family member of mine just the other day who talks about his fear that he sees conditions similar to what we saw in the 1980's. Final relief that we can provide is relief in financial regulations that are stifling the ability of banks to provide workout opportunities for farmers and ranchers when they need it.
“So four things we ought to be doing for our farmers and ranchers: provide them certainty, regulatory relief, new trade opportunities, targeted financial relief on regulations that are preventing workouts through our banks in our communities.
“We've got opportunity now to prevent this country from seeing what it saw in the 1980's, but let’s not be reactionary. Let's do what we can to get ahead of this, before we start seeing what secretary-designate Purdue told me the other day. One of the customers of his agricultural business took their life because they don't know what's going to happen to their farm and his three kids are left now wondering what they're going to do.
“So Mr. President, I thank you for the time today on the floor, and I just hope that this country understands how supportive we are of American agriculture and the actions we need to take to stand with them when times get tough.
“Thanks, Mr. President. I yield the floor.”
Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and the Budget Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy and Subcommittee on Energy.
354 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
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