by José Varela López
New Mexico Cattle Grower’s Association President’s Message
The 2014 New Mexico legislative session is in full swing with over 390 bills introduced thus far. It has been both interesting and disturbing to observe the large number of constitutional amendment legislation that has been filed to date. My concern is that the proffering of so many issues as constitutional amendments will serve as the catalyst to hasten the demise of our historically deliberative legislative process.
As you know, our President-Elect, Pat Boone, and our great staff are tracking every bill. With the help of our bill readers, the process of protecting our common interests becomes very efficient and is much appreciated by our legislative team as they discuss the merits of various bills with our elected representatives.
At this stage of the session there is one bill in particular that I wanted to bring to your attention, that being the “Right to Farm” legislation, or House Bill 51. The current law is in need of being updated to protect agricultural operations from frivolous nuisance lawsuits that are popping up around New Mexico. The crux of the matter is that there are folks moving in next to existing Ag businesses and then trying to shut down these operations. These people “suddenly” become aware that there may be flies, dust, noise or smells that they were somehow previously unaware of. Of course, these folks are being assisted by out of state trial lawyers who offer to litigate their supposed predicament. Please try and make it to Santa Fe when committee hearings are held on this issue. It’s important that our legislators hear directly from our Ag producers so that they can better understand how agriculture works, and the pride we take in running top notch businesses.
On the national level, NMCGA is opposing the passage of Senate Bill 258. The original language, proposed by Senator Barrasso of Wyoming and commonly known as the “Grazing Improvement Act”, was legislation that would have brought greater stability to ranchers that graze US Forest Service and BLM administered lands in the West, by extending permits to 20 years, among other improvements.
However, the current bill is very different from the original, and in my opinion, will wreak havoc on the ranching industry by withdrawing the certainty of a term use permit, and potentially annual stocking rates, due to the amended language. What is even more troublesome is that the bill proposes to permanently retire up to 25 allotments annually in both New Mexico and Oregon. This “voluntary relinquishment” of allotments is contrary to the federal multiple use mandate and an affront to our rural economic and social stability. We will undoubtedly be discussing this issue at the National Cattlemens’ Beef Association Convention in Nashville, being that NCBA has openly supported the proposed legislation.
On another front, I was honored to have accompanied our Executive Director and NMCGA members to speak with ranchers on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, who were requesting assistance in helping form a grazing association in their area, to more effectively tackle the issues they collectively face regarding grazing management. I was very proud that our association could be there to help people who want to help the land, and improve their opportunities to maintain their customs and culture into the future.
The next NMCGA Board of Directors meeting will be held in Santa Fe on February 10th followed by Ag Fest on the 11th and Roundhouse Feed on the 18th, when the New Mexico agriculture industry and producers come together to feed our elected officials and their staffs in the waning days of the session. Feel free to let us know if you can join us. We’d love to have you!
In the meantime, may the Lord bring you both blessings and moisture.
José J. Varela López