Congressman John Salazar recently talked about the future of small farms in the US during a 3rd CD campaign visit in Rio Blanco County. Not only does he sit on the House Agriculture Committee, Salazar is one out of only four congressmen in the entire 435 member House of Representatives who is an active farmer. His ranch, El Rancho Salazar produces seed potatoes.Q. What do you think is the most serious problem facing a family farmer these days?
A: I have visited over 18 states as a member of the ag committee and the big jump in energy costs is the number one complaint. It’s really taking a big chunk out of a family farmer’s bottom line. My personal experience is a good example. In 2004, we spent about $50,000. That climbed to $113,000 last year.
Did you know that the average age of a farmer is 55 years old? Because it’s hard to make a profit, our next generation is not going into farming. There’s no one to take over the family farm and that could be a real problem for America. If we start having to importing our food to feed ourselves, our country as we know it will die.
Q: What do you see as a solution?
A: I think the answer is bio-fuels. First, it could help ease the dependence on importing oil for our energy resources and keep energy costs in check. Second, growing crops that can be processed into bio-fuels like ethanol could help a small farmer’s profit margin. Some farmers are becoming very inventive. There is a farm close to me that leased their land to place wind generators.
Brazil has become energy independent and it took them about 10 years. I believe that 25% of our nation’s energy could be produced from bio-fuels by 2025. However, if we had a change of government policies, I think we could do it in five to 10 years.
If the US became energy independent, our Middle East policies would be radically different, too.
Q: You have mentioned that there is a major agriculture bill coming in 2007. What’s going to change?
A: The last major ag bill was in 2002. Obviously, many of the subsidies are going away because of the budget deficit. However, I am hoping that we can put in tax incentives that will encourage the development of bio-fuels.
Photo: At a meeting in Rio Blanco, John Salazar (center) confers with sheep rancher, Nick Theos to Salazar’s left and on the right, former wheat farmer, Joe Sullivan. Photo by Leslie Robinson.