U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner visited a commercial honey operation in Lewis Tuesday as part of a statewide agriculture tour that began this week in partnership with the Colorado Farm Bureau.
“We’re learning the issues, and are seeing a lot of variety in Colorado agriculture,” the Republican said during a tour of the The Bee Tree on Road W.5. “It’s not just livestock and crops, we’re also seeing honeybee operations, fish farms, and outfitting businesses to supplement farm-and-ranch income.”
Since Monday, he has made stops in Craig, Meeker, Redvale, Rifle, Newcastle, Palisade and Dove Creek.
Bee Tree owner Brad Milligin guided the senator, his staff and 20 local farmers and ranchers through his commercial operation, which has been in business for 50 years.
Unfavorable market forces, fewer food sources for bees because of mono-agriculture, and troublesome biological issues have conspired against the honey bee, he said.
“We produce between 80 and 100 (55 gallon) barrels of honey per year,” Milligin said. “Back in the heyday when my dad was running the business, they produced 300 to 400 barrels per year.”
Mites, an intestinal bacteria, and the mysterious colony collapse disorder have hurt bee populations worldwide.
“Controlling the problems have increased costs,” he said.
His 1,700 hives are on farms and ranches in Montezuma, La Plata, Dolores and Archuleta counties, feeding off pollen and nectar of plants in a 5-mile radius. They return to the hive and produce honey, which is then harvested and processed at Milligin’s commercial facility.
“We mostly sell wholesale, and do some retail,” he said. “My wife and mother-in-law make candles, lotions and salves from the wax.”
Milligin explained that there is a rift between hobby beekeepers and commercial bee farms regarding farm pesticides.
Many hobbyists want them banned, he said, but commercial beekeepers rely on hives on private farms that may use chemicals to control weeds and pests.
“We communicate closely with farmers and when they are spraying we do not have our bees there,” he said. “We are not going to tell them how to farm their land.”
He said the pure-honey market is being hurt by fake honey products that are flooding the market. The fakes can have up to 50 percent corn or sugar beat syrup.
“They are dumping millions of tons of it on the market, so it is hard to compete,” Milligin said.
Laughter erupted when it was asked if marijuana-infused honey is a possible new product in Colorado. Milligin said he had his doubts, but read about a beekeeper who is limiting his bees’ food source to flowering marijuana plants.
“The bees probably have trouble finding their way home!” quipped local farmer Sid Snyder.
Local issues addressedIn a rapid-fire, one-on-one interview with The Journal, Gardner summarized his agriculture-related legislative efforts and delved into other local and national issues.
On ag-based laws, he and Democrat Sen. Michael Bennett introduced the Water and Agricultural Tax Reform Act, a bill that would allow irrigation ditch companies to keep their tax-exempt status as long as excess revenues from leases are invested in ditch upgrades and maintenance.He recently introduced the Rural Economic Development bill to help upgrade abandoned buildings and put them back to use.“Across rural Colorado, Main Streets are hurting from vacant buildings that are too expensive to repair because of asbestos or some other environmental hazard,” Gardner said. “We want to create tax incentives so they can be mitigated and revitalized.”
Gardner said he will “leave no stone unturned” in an effort to ensure boat inspections get proper funding to prevent McPhee reservoir from being contaminated by invasive mussels.On the topic of transferring public lands to states, Gardner said he does not think it is going to happen, but they need the resources to be managed properly and not be neglected.“I think partnerships between local governments to better manage public lands should be talked about, but the notion that there will be a mass turnover is not going to happen,” he said.
Gardner said he supports local hemp farming, even though it’s illegal at the federal level.“A lot of people don’t understand hemp,” he said. “It will take time as other states urge their members of Congress to make the change.”
Gardner said he and other lawmakers are pursuing the a Good Samaritan law to clean up mines by allowing third-party organizations to take on mine cleanup projects.“We need to stop talking about it, and start implementing it,” he said.
Finally, when asked what advice he would give Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Gardner said, “He must convince the American people – through a positive vision of opportunity and economic prosperity – that he will do the best job for them. Whoever makes that point best is going to win.”Gardner hasn’t endorsed Trump, and dodged the endorsement question Tuesday evening.
“I’m here to talk about great Colorado agriculture opportunities,” he responded.