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CAWG Submits Testimony for Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources

Today the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers submitted written testimony for the record for the record for the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources during the “Hearing on the High Plains: Combating Drought with Innovation” field hearing in Burlington, CO. Text from CAWG’s testimony is featured below.

Dear Chairwoman Stabenow, Subcommittee Chair Bennet and other members of the committee,
Thank you for holding this special hearing to discuss combatting drought on the high plains. The Colorado Association of Wheat Growers (CAWG) is a voluntary membership organization that represents around 400 dues paying members at both the state and federal levels of government. CAWG greatly appreciates the opportunity to provide testimony for the record expressing our concern for Colorado’s wheat producers.

The wheat farmers of Eastern Colorado are no stranger to drought. The last four years have proven to be an example of this, as many counties of Eastern Colorado have been in D1 to D4 drought much of this time. In fact, in 2022 Colorado saw its smallest wheat crop in 57 years due to extreme drought. While drought is unavoidable, there are ways to help mitigate its impact.

Wheat is a critical part of the crop rotation in Eastern Colorado. Wheat residue left on a field after harvest helps prevent wind erosion, captures snow, and shades the soil to preserve moisture in the cropping system. In drought years there is less wheat residue, which causes a ripple effect, leading to smaller crops with even less residue. Drought can cause an even worse impact in areas of northeastern Colorado that have infestations from the wheat stem sawfly. The wheat stem sawfly is a native pest which has modified its phenology to match with our winter wheat crop. The pest causes damage to the stems, meaning fields have to be harvested close to the ground, leaving little to no residue. In the drought of 2022, we saw this in full force, as areas that had both extreme drought conditions and wheat stem sawfly pressure experienced severe wind erosion events. For Colorado wheat farmers, managing drought and managing wheat stem sawfly are interconnected.

We have been advocating for more federal funding for wheat stem sawfly research, and appreciate the recent inclusion of wheat stem sawfly funding in the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2024. Additional funding in future appropriations cycles would help even more.

The other aspect of managing drought in Colorado wheat production relates to maintaining access to crop protection tools, which are critical in no-till and minimum-tillage systems. These systems preserve moisture and have already been widely adopted. But threats to pesticide access jeopardizes continued use of these practices. In fact, as weeds have become resistant to some of our best tools, such as glyphosate, some growers are switching back to tillage. We need lower regulatory hurdles to bring new products onto the market in order to continue increasing adoption of no-till and all of the conservation benefits associated with it.

Another important factor that helps protect Colorado’s wheat farmers during drought is crop insurance. Without crop insurance over the last four years, many of Colorado’s wheat farmers would have been put out of business due to drought. CAWG urges lawmakers to protect and enhance crop insurance in the next farm bill, while also keeping it affordable for farmers.

Finally, voluntary conservations programs are essential to helping maintain and protect land during drought. CAWG urges lawmakers to provide a wide range of conservations options for all producers, in all climates and all regions of the country in the next Farm Bill. One program that CAWG would like to bring to lawmakers’ attention is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CAWG is supportive of incentivizing enrollment of marginal lands and emphasizing state partnerships, which was included in the House Committee on Agriculture’s Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024.

CAWG appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on today’s Hearing on the High Plains. While drought is a challenge that we will always probably face in the High Plains, its impact can be mitigated through further research and improvements to crop insurance. CAWG asks that Congress keeps Colorado’s wheat farmers in mind when developing strategies to combat drought, especially in the next Farm Bill.
Thank you,

Brad Erker, Colorado Association of Wheat Growers Executive Director

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