Ag producers meet with state ag leaders

Open communication between the Colorado Department of Agriculture and producers was the theme of a town hall meeting held Tuesday afternoon at the Eckley Community Center.

About 40 people, mostly local ranchers and farmers, attended the meeting that featured Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg and Dr. Rebecca Niemiec, the newly-appointed Bureau of Animal Protection program manager. Yuma County’s Dave Blach, recently appointed to the Colordo Ag Commission, also sat at the head table with Greenberg and Niemiec.
The town hall fit in with the Yuma County Ag Appreciation Week, currently taking place through Sunday, March 27.
Greenberg was a controversial appointment when Governor Jared Polis tapped her to replace Yuma County’s Don Brown, who served as agriculture commissioner under another Democrat governor, John Hickenlooper.
However, judging by several comments made Tuesday, Greenberg has slowly gained the trust of many in Colorado’s agricultural industry through open communication, availability and transparency.
However, the recent hiring of Niemiec to the Bureau of Animal Control again caught the attention of the ag industry, particularly in regards to her having connections to animal rights groups, and the process used by state leaders in hiring her.
Greenberg and Niemiec came to Yuma County for the day to meet with local producers, and also attended the RRWCD’s presentation about the Republican River Compact situation prior to the town hall in Eckley.
The town hall was moderated by Yuma County Commissioner Scott Weaver. He said he has gotten to know Greenberg since becoming a commissioner last year, and has seen a change in how she views Colorado agriculture.
“I think we have an ally in the Department of Agriculture,” he told the crowd.
He noted that, including Blach, there are four new members of the ag commission that are heavily rooted in agriculture, adding they have been appointed by allies at the state level.
Greenberg gave a brief history of the BAP, which was established in its current form by the Colorado legislature in 1990 and its mission is to prevent the neglect, mistreatment, or abuse of animals in Colorado. On average, fewer than 6 percent of BAP cases have dealt with livestock and of that approximately 2 percent with cattle.
“This program is not about regulating the ag industry,” Greenberg said.
She and Niemiec focused their message on soothing concerns that the BAP would now start focusing on accepted animal husbandry practices within the livestock industry.
Niemiec noted she is on her 12th day on the job, and is in full learning mode. She was a professor at CSU, studying people’s behavior toward conservation and animal relations issues. She asked how her department could be proactive in showing that good animal husbandry is not abuse.
They were told by those in attendance that the people there are passionate about what they do.
“I understand that no one cares more about livestock than what you all do,” Niemiec said. “I want to work with you.”

Local rancher Kenny Rogers said he feels Niemiec is not a good choice, and it goes to the sentiment that the ag industry does not have a voice since Polis became governor. He brought up the animal rights groups that Niemiec has been involved with, and asked how she can gain trust.
She said that as a researcher, she worked on a wide range of projects involving numerous agencies and organizations, but that is no longer her role. “Their work was not my work,” Niemiec said. “My work was trying to understand their beliefs. She said she now has a specific role to focus on the definition of animal cruelty as laid out in state statutes. She said she will keep coming back to listen, and knows trust building will take time.
Reuben Richardson brought up the need for more labor in agriculture, starting with better education of youth about agriculture. He said producers eventually will not be able to provide food to the rest of the world if the availability of labor does not improve.
Greenberg said ag education is a priority for her department, and there are are other programs in place to attract workers, help families with secession, and help beginning farmers and ranchers.
Producers such as BJ Mekelburg, Nathan Weathers and Heath Roundtree stressed the need for there being an ag-friendly environment in Colorado, for ag to have a seat at the table, and for ag to be presented in a positive light.
“My goal is to support Colorado agriculture and animal husbandry practices in Colorado,” Niemiec said.
She told the crowd her email and phone number is on the BAP website, and encouraged everyone to contact her when they wanted to visit.
“My plan is to keep coming back and hear how you would like to continue this conversation,” Niemiec said.