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Ag leaders bemoan lack of respect, knowledge by Polis administration

By JEFF RICE | | Sterling Journal-Advocate

January 20, 2021 at 12:49 p.m. This article has been re-posted to offer our local community information which they may not be aware of.

Sen. Kerry Donovan, far left, listens during Tuesday’s roundtable discussion. Also pictured are former agriculture commissioner Don Brown, Brown’s wife Peggy and their son Tyson.

YUMA, Colo. – “We’ve always had a seat at the table. Now, we’re not even in the room.”

That metaphor, delivered by Yuma County rancher Ken Rogers, summed up feelings expressed at a round-table meeting here Tuesday. During more than two hours of discussion, agricultural producers, corporate representatives and current and former elected and appointed state and county officials drove home a single point: They feel abandoned and alienated by state government.

The meeting, which was to kick off a two-week “listening tour” around the state, was requested by State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Edwards, who is chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Energy.

Although she’s technically a rancher, Donovan said she knows little of the massive farming and ranching operations that cover eastern Colorado and parts of the Western Slope, and generate $7.1 billion in cash receipts, mostly through exports. That has prompted her to reach out to the people she considers experts on Colorado agriculture. Donovan called former Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown for guidance as she heads into her second year chairing the committee. Brown, in turn, invited former state senator and ag commissioner Don Ament, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who is the ranking member on Donovan’s committee, former Yuma County Commissioner Dean Wingfield, representatives of Western Sugar and Smithfield Foods, along with Rogers and his wife, Jody, who sits on the Great Outdoors Colorado board of directors.

And so, socially distanced in Brown’s expansive shop and surrounded by well over $1 million in gleaming machinery, tools and equipment, Donovan listened and took page after page of notes.

A central figure in Tuesday’s discussion was Gov. Jared Polis, who is viewed by many rural Coloradans as being indifferent to production agriculture, if not downright hostile. The consensus was that niche farming – hemp, marijuana, lavender and other specialty crops – are being emphasized by the Polis administration while traditional agriculture is virtually ignored. And central to that argument is what Polis has called “diversity” in his appointments of cabinet members, starting with Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg.

Rogers, who is president-elect of the Colorado Livestock Association, said Greenberg has virtually shut out his organization.

“I’m frustrated with the lack of response, the lack of respect (from Greenberg’s office,)” Rogers said. “We used to have great communication with the commissioner, but now we’re shut out. We’ve always at least had a seat at the table. Now, we’re not even in the room.”

There also is fear that rural influence on Capitol Hill has all but evaporated since Democrats gained control of both houses of the legislature and the executive office. Stripped of any committee chairmanships and relegated to “ranking member” status, Republicans are virtually powerless and they feel their constituents are being ignored.

Ament said Department of Agriculture staffers who once worked for him are afraid to talk to him publicly for fear of repercussions from a highly partisan Polis administration. He said he’s worried that there is no one in the legislature or administration to speak for Colorado’s farmers and ranchers.

Donovan admitted there’s “no base knowledge” of production agriculture among ruling Democrats.

“I think I’m the only (Democrat) who could spot a posthole digger in the back of a pickup,” she said.

While no plan of action was discussed Tuesday, Donovan did say she intends to meet with as many rural Coloradans as possible in the few weeks before the General Assembly convenes again in February.

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