Southwestern cattlemen face industry challenges

Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 9:45 AM
Rancher Al Heaton speaks about grazing issues during the annual Southwestern Colorado Livestock Association’s annual meeting at the Cortez Elks Lodge on Saturday. About 60 ranchers listened to politicians and industry officials discuss topics, including immigration and trade challenges.
The Southwestern Livestock Association banquet on Saturday. U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, discussed using the new Farm Bill to change immigrant labor laws in order to benefit Colorado agriculture needs. For example, he said, laws are blocking Peruvian sheepherders from entering the country to work for ranchers in Craig.

Updates on ranching and range issues were presented at the Southwestern Colorado Livestock Association meeting Saturday at the Cortez Elks Lodge.

The weak winter snowpack of less than 40 percent of normal could cause low soil moisture issues on grazing allotments on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land this summer. Adjustment in where and how many livestock can graze may be made, federal officials said, but spring rains would alleviate the problem.

A new electronic driving log for livestock haulers is also problematic for local ranchers, reported rancher and Montezuma County commissioner Larry Don Suckla.

According to the Colorado transportation rule, once the engine is started, the trucker is allowed only 11 hours of drive time, and it must be completed within 14 hours. But often there are situations when the hauler has to wait many hours before the semi-trailer is loaded, then he bumps up against the 14-hour limit.

“He ends up having to park overnight before arriving at his drop-off point, putting the health of younger livestock at risk,” Suckla said.

A solution is to double up on drivers, but that increases costs. Another consequence is road safety, Suckla said. Because older trucks are exempt from electronic logs, livestock haulers who originate outside the state have an incentive to run their older trucks when hauling through Colorado.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, discussed using the new Farm Bill to change immigrant labor laws in order to benefit Colorado agriculture needs. For example, overly complicated laws are blocking Peruvian sheepherders relied on by ranchers in Craig from entering the country to work.

“They have been coming here for years, then going back home. But under labor programs, they are inhibited from working during the season,” Tipton said. “Rules and regulations need to be pliable to work for industry.”

Tipton also advocated for effective and fair agricultural trade agreements, including deals that allow potato growers in the San Luis Valley to ship to markets in northern Mexico.

Other topics presented and discussed:

Proposed air quality regulations that would make ranchers measure and regularly report methane emission from livestock operations is a concern for the industry because of increased costs and hassle.Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said to expect increases in water disputes if the current dry spell continues. One of his deputies, Dave Huhn, specializes in water law and conflicts and has done a lot to educate the public and resolve issues during past droughts, he said.Nowlin warned that cattle rustling is still a threat to local producers. Locally it is not rampant, but nearby areas including the San Luis Valley and south of Norwood are seeing an increase in cattle theft.The San Juan National Forest is catching up on environmental assessments to direct management and improve conditions of forest grazing allotments into the future. The environmental assessment for The Glade area is nearing completion, and another one has begun for grazing allotments in the Mancos area, said ranger Derek Padilla of the Dolores district.Rancher Gayel Alexander urged forest managers to improve maintenance of Road 521 from Ormiston to Benchmark for grazing permitees. Padilla said fixing that road is one of their priorities.Livestock producers said they would like to see country and state of origin labeling on beef products in the grocery store to improve marketing for locally produced meat. The origin label has become a difficult problem to crack because it requires modifying rules with the World Trade Organization, reported an official with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. State Rep. Marc Catlin, of the 58th District including Montezuma and Dolores counties, said Front Range demand for Western Slope water is becoming an increasing threat. Pressure to increase transmountain diversions are on the horizon to accommodate population increases centered on the Front Range.He said Front Range cities need to show stronger water conservation laws, such as stricter limits on lawn size and more reservoirs to store state water rights on the Platte River flowing into Nebraska.

“We have the senior water rights, and can’t go dry by helping the Front Range,” he said. “Our urban cousins want us to bail them out on predicted shortages, but they need to focus on saving water,” such as fewer lawns, and less irrigation demand for parks and golf courses.