Thu February 24, 2011

Colorado Farm Programs Brace for Federal Cuts

Colorado farmers and ranchers are in Denver for Governor John Hickenlooper’s forum on state agriculture, and many in the business are worried about looming cuts to federal research and other agricultural subsidy programs that farmers say are key to rural economic development.

Many of those programs are supported or administered by Colorado State University and its agriculture extension offices throughout the state.  Under pressure to trim budgets in light of the deficit, the US Department of Agriculture is expected to make hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to federal agriculture partnership programs and grants, says CSU President Tony Frank.

"Now don’t take these comments the wrong way, I’m not standing here in front of you saying that we should not get federal spending under control,I believe that we should," Frank said. "But my worry is that the people who are looking at controlling federal spending may not appreciate the critical importance not only today but to the future of the agricultural industry in this country." 

CSU meantime is also bracing for what Frank estimates will be a 28% cut in state funding, and that may have an impact on agricultural programs. 

But talk at this conference is not all doom and gloom.  Other panels are focusing on how Colorado stands to gain from ramping up agricultural exports, and how farmers can adapt to the needs of the increasingly sophisticated food consumer. 

Thursday morning a couple hundred farmers and ranchers and state dignitaries got a rousing keynote speech from New Mexico State University economist Lowell Catlett.  Catlett is well known in the industry for shaking things up and getting some of the more set-in-their-ways farmers to think differently.  Among his speech's more colorful moments was an exchange  about consumers in China and India and their growing demand for meat.   

"(The) Chinese alone, four-fold increase in per capita consumption of meat protein, most of it poultry, most of it came from the United States." Catlett said. "We like chicken tenders, they like the drumsticks, it’s working out."

Catlett went on to say that per capita consumption of beef in India has nearly doubled in the last five years.

"Not a culture and a country known for eating beef," he said. "But there were enough people in India when they got more money they said, I think I’m trying a cow."

So Catlett told the crowd that they shouldn’t be worried about the still-struggling economy, given the opportunities for agricultural exports from states like Colorado.  Catlett also advised farmers here to better prepare themselves for the changing domestic market – with rising consumer demand for products like artisan cheeses and organic beef.