MEEKER I Colorado’s junior U.S. senator, Cory Gardner (R-Yuma), visited Meeker on Tuesday to attend a breakfast session at Mountain Valley Bank hosted by the Rio Blanco County (RBC) Farm Bureau as the Colorado Farm Bureau is hosting the senator’s agricultural tour of the state.
RBC Farm Bureau members JD and Nancy Amick, Harold and Patty Anderson and Jim and Diana Watson were reported to have been the primary local hosts. Sheriff Anthony Mazzola represented county government.
Tawny Halandras, president of Meeker Mountain Valley Bank, participated as the building sponsor. JD Amick reported there were about 26 people there, 10, at least, of whom were state Farm Bureau, state- level ag personnel and Gardner staffers.
Sen. Gardner told the Herald Times by phone that he very much appreciated meeting with the Meeker group, which was largely made up of agricultural producer representatives. Rio Blanco County Stockgrowers were represented by Harold Anderson and President Rodney Dunham. Woolgrowers President Butch Theos, Conservation District officer Gary Moyer and staffers Callie Hendrickson and Chris Colflesh also participated.
Gardner said the issues discussed included farm labor under the H2A foreign labor rules, bighorn sheep management in the face of domestic sheep herds with public land grazing allotments, public land use decisions under BLM’s proposed Rule 2.0, new agricultural marketing opportunities and the wild horse problem.
Asked about the presidential election, Gardner said he has been telling folks that “anyone who tells you they know what’s going to happen, they’ve obviously had a little too much of Colorado’s latest homegrown product!”
Gardner has not yet endorsed fellow Republican Donald Trump for president. He says he still has a couple critical questions for Trump.
His tour, Gardner said, took him from Meeker to New Castle where he ran into more of the lamb producer and worker concerns and that he was going on to a fruit orchard operation in Palisade, Anasazi dry bean producers in Dove Creek and a beekeeper and honey producer in Durango.
JD Amick said he made a point of telling Gardner that the Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center of Meeker has more than 500 different plant accessions helpful to sage grouse, but that no one, with the exception of the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming, is coming up with any interest and money to use them in improving sage grouse habitat, which is supposed to be a priority now. He asked the senator for help and ideas in this arena.
Theos said the oppressive implementation of H2A labor rules over the last couple years has become almost unbearable. Waiting periods are interminable with the U.S. Department of Labor—it’s almost impossible to get workers here in a timely fashion, he said.
As of Nov. 15, the department is requiring what amounts to a 60 percent increase in herder wages without any consideration that producers are supplying room and board for the workers as well as paying all their health and travel costs from their home countries.
It is also a big issue, Theos said, that New Zealand and Australia are now importing 150 percent more lamb into the U.S. than U.S. woolgrowers are producing and flooding the market, and that producers in those countries don’t have the labor, environmental and predator control costs U.S. producers do.
Theos added, however, that Gardner seemed to be well aware of most of the issues raised and was receptive to helping.
The conservation district representatives reminded Gardner that with regard to wild horses, just the 40,000 wild horses now held in captivity by the BLM would cost the government more than $1 billion over their lifetimes.