Steamboat Springs Colorado’s commissioner of agriculture told a group of local ranchers Wednesday evening that he thinks agriculture will lead the state out of recession.
“Ag touches every part of the economy,” said John Salazar, a sixth-generation farmer and rancher and three-term U.S. congressman who represented Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.
Salazar traveled to Steamboat Springs for an education event hosted by Routt County CattleWomen at Olympian Hall. About 50 people attended the event, which included desserts baked by CattleWomen members and a brief speech by Salazar about agriculture and government.
“Policy was never meant to protect the American farmer,” Salazar said. “It was meant to keep the American consumer safe.”
Under Salazar, the Colorado Department of Agriculture assists marketing of Coloradan agricultural goods; inspects and certifies agricultural installations; and regulates food safety, animal welfare and pest control, according to the agency’s website. The agency states Colorado agriculture contributes $16 billion to the state’s economy each year.
Salazar addressed several issues, including the Colorado Jensen Farms cantaloupe tainted with listeria that as of Wednesday had killed 23 people, including five in Colorado.
Salazar said the federal government has taken charge of the situation, and his job primarily has been to minimize the damage to producers — and not just cantaloupe producers.
“It’s been devastating for melon farmers, not so much this year but maybe next year,” Salazar said. “It affects everyone.”
Salazar, who said he has no plans to run again for Congress, also addressed concerns related to the potential pumping of water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope of Colorado.
Salazar told the ranchers that as long as agriculture water remains the least expensive, people are going to go after it.
“I have always tired to make sure that water stays on the land for agriculture purposes,” he said. “We’re fighting, and the governor recognizes that.”
Other topics included trade agreements, the lack of infrastructure for processing products certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and bans on horse slaughtering.
South Routt County resident Todd Hagenbuch somewhat jokingly pleaded with Salazar to get Routt County Brand Inspector Darren Clever a four-wheel-drive truck to replace the two-wheel-drive truck he now uses to drive to ranches throughout the county. Clever was named Brand Inspector of the Year in 2010 by the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.
Colorado Department of Agriculture Executive Administrator Jenifer Gurr attended the event with Salazar and told the crowd Clever was in front of the line to receive the new truck during the next round of purchasing, which prompted joyful applause from the ranchers.
CattleWomen President Jo Stanko said she thought Wednesday’s event went well and that people were able to get answers to their questions.
“I hope the CattleWomen keep doing stuff like this,” Clark rancher Doug Carlson said. “I think it’s very worthwhile. I appreciate what the CattleWomen are doing.”
— To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com