Salazar stresses food security

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U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar sees a disturbing possibility related to the United States' dependence on the Middle East for oil.

Salazar, a San Luis Valley Democrat and a member of the Senate's Agriculture Committee, said at Friday's regional agricultural forum that if the United States does not protect and revitalize its farming industry, the country could one day find itself dangerously relying on other nations for food, in addition to oil.

"We have compromised our national security with respect to energy," Salazar told an audience of more than 30 at Centennial Hall. "We should not allow the same thing to begin to happen with food security."

Salazar was the featured speaker at the event, which came less than three weeks before he will return to Washington, D.C. and begin Senate debate about revisions to the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, or "farm bill."

First passed in 2002, the current farm bill is scheduled to expire in September 2007. The new farm bill will guide the nation's agriculture policies for the next five years.

Salazar said his work on the farm bill will "make sure we're creating the right kind of incentives and the right kind of payments to support farmers and agriculture."

Statistics presented at the forum, hosted by Routt County Cooperative Extension Office Director C.J. Mucklow, show that as of 2005, the number of cattle and calves in Routt County has dipped below 30,000 for the first time since at least 1954. The number of sheep and lambs in Routt County dipped to about 5,000 in 2005, drastically lower than the nearly 50,000 sheep and lambs present in 1976. Winter wheat acreage is also dipping, to about 5,000 acres in 2002 from more than 20,000 acres in 1972. Wheat production is on "a steady decline" in both Routt and Moffat counties, Mucklow said.

Harvested hay acreage has remained relatively stable in Routt County through 2002, between 40,000 and 50,000 acres since at least 1954.

Reasons for the declines, according to Mucklow, include the growth of non-agricultural populations in rural areas, land values that are "way beyond" production agriculture profits and not enough young farmers and ranchers.

Farms and ranchlands in Northwest Colorado may be facing a new danger as well.

South Routt rancher Dan Craig asked Salazar if the senator was aware of methamphetamine users creating "labs" to create the drug on remote portions of private ranching properties, then dumping the hazardous waste before leaving the area.

Craig said damage from the waste is "uninsurable" because dumping is a criminal act and can force ranchers to spend thousands of dollars on cleanup costs.

"I could go into an hour's worth of examples - it happened right across the fence from me," Craig said. "This is a scary thing that most people are not even aware of."

In late May, law officers from several local, regional and national agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, searched more than 400 acres just north of Phippsburg for construction equipment stolen in multiple burglaries in several states. While searching, officers found hazardous waste that indicated methamphetamine production. An Oklahoma man bought the property in October 2005.

Officers took at least four people into custody on charges related to the investigation.

"This is the first time I've heard about (meth dumps) in this context," Salazar said Friday, adding that he intends to examine the issue further and look into possible funding sources - such as the Environmental Protection Agency - to provide landowners with relevant insurance policies.

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