Aides to U.S. Senator Michael Bennet found what they were after in Delta on May 31 as they came here for a "listening session" to hear the concerns and issues of area ag producers.
"We're hurting out here.
The government rules and regulations are getting harder every year. We need help and relief," said a woman from the North Fork Valley. She said that she and her husband each have two outside jobs and still have difficulty making their small family ag operation pay. Speakers at the session were not required to identify themselves.
"The government's help hurts us. You have to get back to reality. We have the common sense to run our farms and treat people right. You don't know what it's like," Bennet's aides were told. The senator was invited to tour some small, North Fork ag operations to see for himself what the lifestyle is like.
The Obama administration's Department of Labor came under stinging criticism at the session for its farm labor H2A program.
Olathe producer John Harold told Bennet's aides, "The H2A process is complex, cumbersome, and nearly unworkable. You have ag doing the work of ICE, the border patrol and immigration. If you are going to ask us to do it, then at least get rid of the other (departments) who aren't."
Bennet aide Grant Colvin said, "We know the H2A process is creating economic loss from unused and wasted production." He added, "It (H2A) hasn't resolved the illegal immigrant ag worker problem."
Another local producer at the session said the Department of Labor is using "gestapo enforcement tactics," and that enforcement against producers is unfair. Fines being levied against producers are "outrageous," another said, adding that one grower in the Grand Junction area has a $35,000 lawyer bill fighting his fines. "Get the Department of Labor out of H2A enforcement," the senator's aides were told.
Other issues aired at the session included the following ones:
• A rule proposed by the Department of Labor would have outlawed family farms from having their own children help with all but the most menial farm chores. The rule would have ended programs like 4-H and FFA, critics warned. The rule was finally withdrawn by the Labor Department under a storm of popular protest.
• Small family farms are being driven out of business because they don't get the kinds of federal subsidies that agri-business corporations receive.
• The Farm Bill covers almost $300 billion annual spending with 78 percent of that money going into the food stamp program, Colvin said. "The Farm Bill should be called a 'food bill,' " he said.
• Small farms should be able to accept food stamps in payment for their direct-to-consumer sales.
• Farm subsidies end up going to urban areas where management headquarters for agri-business is located and not to rural areas where food is produced.
The Delta event took place on the eve of Congress taking up the Farm Bill. Adoption of the Farm Bill, which takes place every five years, is always a time of constituent contact for Congress members. Bennet and his staff conducted two dozen "listening sessions" around the state in advance of the Farm Bill vote.blog comments powered by Disqus