Senator Bennet discusses Ag in Lincoln County
By Will Bublitz
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet made a stop in Limon to discuss agricultural exports and their impact on the state’s rural economy last Tuesday, Aug. 27.
Bennett met with local officials and agricultural business leaders for an hour at the office of Parker Ag Services, LLC on Highway 71. The meeting was one of a series of roundtables that he is co-hosting throughout the state as a part of a workshop series entitled: "Beyond Colorado: How to Bring Your Products and Services to the Global Marketplace.”
For the most part, Bennet listened and asked questions as the local leaders talked about their specific areas of interest concerning agricultural exports.
Steve Beedy, Director of the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee and a Genoa resident, spoke about the importance of exports to the state’s wheat producers, He said the state currently exports about 80 percent of their crop to foreign nations with China and Nigeria among their biggest customers.
Joe Kiely, Vice President of the Ports-to-Plains Alliance and Limon’s Assistant Town Manager, also spoke about the importance of agricultural exports to the state’s economy. He explained that while Colorado’s economy was hard hit by the recession, the state’s income from agricultural exports continued to rise.
Kiely also presented Bennett with a written report on Lincoln County’s and the Town of Limon’s effort to become a designated Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) where foreign companies can set up distribution and manufacturing facilities. Merchandise within an FTZ is not subject to custom duties and excise taxes until it leaves the zone. Kiely obtained Bennett’s promise to write a letter of support for the FTZ application which is currently being considered by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The discussion also ranged over meat and other types of agricultural exports to foreign nations.
Lincoln County Commissioner Greg King said there is “a large untapped market” for Colorado grains in African countries such as Cameroon.
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Bennett took the opportunity to criticize the U.S. House of Representatives for not passing the Farm Bill that was approved earlier this year by the Senate.
“We should pass this bill,” he said. “There is no good reason not to. My advice to you is to get your membership on them and they are watching what you do. Even if people disagree with provisions of the bill, that’s not a reason to hold up the bill.”
The House will take up the Farm Bill again during its nine-day session in September.
“If we don’t pass this Farm Bill and its expires, there will be a lot of bad stuff happening,” he said.
Bennet also said the Immigration Reform Bill should also be passed. A Democratic member of the Senate’s so-called “Gang of Eight,” he praised the Republican members of that committee John McCain, Marco Rubio, Lindsay Graham and Jeff Flake.
“They set the standard for legislative leadership,” he said. “It was a lot easier for the Democrats to sit at that table than it was for the Republicans. They did it because they know how important that bill is to business, especially agriculture.”
Bennett, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, is a member of the Senate Finance
Committee which deals directly with Congressional oversight of international trade issues and negotiations, including the Free Trade Agreements currently be worked on with European and Asian nations. So far during his term of office, he has signed letters to press Japan to increase market access for U.S. Beef products, advocated for Colorado dairy interests in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, pushed for increased market access in Mexico for Colorado potatoes, and authored a letter pushing the United States Department of Agriculture and the Office of the United States Trade Representative to make bison products a priority in U.S. trade policy.
Exports are the fastest growing segment of Colorado and the nation's agricultural economy. Last year, Colorado set records as manufactured, agricultural and mineral exports grew by more than 10 percent increasing from $7.3 billion to $8.1 billion.
Also attending Tuesday’s roundtable discussion with Senator Bennett were Limon Mayor Julie Coonts, Limon Town Manager Dave Stone and former Lincoln County Commissioner Gary Beedy.