Out with the old, in with the new

by Caren Cowan, Executive Director, NMCGA

Well, probably not so much. Clearly there will be new opportunities to deal with new challenges, but that doesn’t clean the slate of all the old opportunities to deal with the old challenges.

We are just weeks away from the 2016 Legislature. It will be a 30-day budget Session, but the agricultural community has a host of measures on tap that will hopefully provide relief from those leftover challenges. At the top of the list is workers’ compensation insurance for agricultural workers.

Lest too much holiday cheer has dimmed your memory, New Mexico’s agricultural exemption was ruled unconstitutional by the New Mexico Court of Appeals. The case has been appealed to the State Supreme Court. Briefs have been filed, but a decision is not expected until at least until early summer. Legislation will seek to clarify the questions that have arisen as the Workers’ Comp Administration (WCA) and clarify reasoning for an ag exemption. There has been bi-partisan support to do address the current statute to aid food and fiber growers.

Equally important is legislation to address the recent move by the New Mexico Taxation & Revenue Department (NMTRD) to enforce a little know regulation requiring landowners to pay gross receipts tax on the sale of access for hunting and fishing. The Secretary of the NMTRD testified to the Interim Revenue Stabilization & Tax Policy Committee in mid-December that the tax had been in place for 19 years, but that there had been less than 50 percent compliance rate. She said that the reason landowners had be targeted was because someone paying the taxes called to complain that others weren’t.

A bill is being drafted to address the tax in the future. Litigation is being explored to address the situation retroactively.

The issue of the “right to farm” remains one of concern especially to farmers and confined feeding operations. Many suits have been filed against dairies in New Mexico claiming temporary nuisance including small, flies, and dust. Plaintiff attorneys have been successful in other states in extracting large sums of money from food growers on these types of complaints. Work has been done in the Legislature to shore up New Mexico’s laws to protect farmers and ranchers. A bill on right to farm is likely.

With the shrinkage of the national cow herd as well as in New Mexico over the past several years, Beef Checkoff dollars have been dwindling to the point that the New Mexico Beef Council (NMBC) has been forced to discontinue a large number of its programs. These programs are invaluable in educating the public, in responding to beef issues and in research to develop products that meet the changing demands of Americans. To address that issue, a bill has been drafted to allow the NMBC to collect an additional refundable dollar for use in New Mexico. The measure also allows the complete opt out of the extra dollar should beef growers choose to. A bill was introduced last year, but was pulled in order to address issues of concern from one sector of the community. Although the new bill addresses all of those concerns, New Mexico’s dairy industry will not be supporting the legislation. However, they will not be opposing it either.

Most all of these issues will have to be listed in Governor Martinez’s Call at the beginning of the Session if they are to be heard by the Legislature. Work is underway to request a place on the Call.

There will also be a need for supporters of these bills to come to Santa Fe for committee hearings. The Session runs from January 19 to February 18. We generally don’t know until a few days, if not the day before, a hearing is to take place so watch your email and/or the website at www.nmagriculture.org to keep up.

There are some key dates that are already on the calendar. The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA) Board of Directors will meet at the Hotel Santa Fe on January 26 and 27. All NMCGA members are welcome at Board meetings. For more information, please contact the office at 505/247.0584 or email to nmcga@nmagriculture.org.

The annual Ag Fest reception showcasing all of New Mexico agriculture will be held on January 26. This one of the most well attended legislative receptions by legislators, staff and the administration…and there is lots of good food.

The annual Roundhouse Feed, which offers a free dinner to all members of the Legislature, their staff and members of the administration is slated for February 16 in the Rotunda of the Capitol. Extra hands are always helpful when feeding up to 1,400 people…in three hours or less, including clean up. If you can come, be at the Rotunda by 3:00 p.m. on the 16th. The Feed is another great place to showcase New Mexico’s ranchers and farmers and their families.

Although the Legislation hasn’t started yet, there are already 145 bill pre-filed. The NMCGA bill readers are already hard at work. NMCGA asks volunteers to read 10 out of every 100 bills to ensure that someone lays eyes on every measure that is dropped during the Legislature. If you are interested volunteering, please email nmcga@nmag
riculture.org or call 505/247.0584. It is a great way to help out if you cannot make it to Santa Fe during the Session and doesn’t put a huge burden on any one individual.

With the New Year…

It is officially election season. Unofficially, as we all know, it has been going on and on for many months. In New Mexico there will be only one state-wide race, that of filling the seat of the Secretary of State. There will be the three congressional seats up for a vote. The ENTIRE Legislature is up for election.

To avoid the drying up of campaign donations that always come during a presidential election, most New Mexico politicians began raising funds last summer. The NMCGA has received numerous invitations for fund raisers in the past several months.

It is NMCGA policy not to give campaign donations or to endorse candidates. The hope is that members will open their wallets for area races while establishing relationships with those elected or soon to be elected folks. Unfortunately, that giving is not enough anymore.

As the population grows in the state, few urban areas and declines in rural areas, there are more and more urban elected officials who are making decisions impacting the entire state…without a lot of thought to outcomes for the vast stretches of land that makes up most of the state. During the 2015 Legislature rather than the typical battles between parties, the rifts were between urban and rural representatives. While we were able to depend on a precious few leaders to hold the coyotes and wolves at bay, the trend is disturbing to say the least.

Additionally a target was placed squarely on the backs of those leaders who will face stiff challenges to their seats and/or a boat load of funding from special interest and environmental groups who would drive people and animals from the land. As you are spending your campaign donation budget, please consider sending some funds out of your area to help those who protect you.

Mother Nature

The east side of New Mexico was hit by one of the worst storms on record over Christmas. The storm that contained F1 tornado force winds dumped feet of snow that was then blown into drifts that were 10 feet high and 40 feet long. Entire communities were shut down for days. Buildings were damaged beyond repair and livestock were in harm’s way.

The storm has been dubbed Blizzard Goliath, perhaps the first time a blizzard has been named. We used to just identify them by year. But no matter what you call it, the storm was akin to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the horrible blizzard in South Dakota in 2013 in its devastating harm.

The total impact of the storm won’t be known for quite some time because people are still digging out. Where the snow is melting, there is now feet deep mud that prevents movement.

The dairy industry was particularly hard hit. Not only did animals die as a result of the snow and wind, but there will be many cows that will need to be shipped because of frozen bags and teats.

The storm prevented milking for many hours and prevented movement of milk that was milked prior to the storm. That milk had to be dumped.

On the good news side, while it was expected that young calves in their igloo shaped huts might have died in large numbers, the snow actually provided insulation and most of the calves were revived with a bottle.

This is not the first such storms during my tenure. In 1997 a Christmas snow storm shut down the southeastern part of the state, requiring hay to be dropped by the Wyoming and Oklahoma National Guards. The Governor at the time took the position that using the New Mexico National Guard violated the state’s anti-donation clause which prohibits aide to any particular individual.

The snow was deep but it wasn’t accompanied by the fierce winds. The sheep took the worst of that hit.

In 2006 the snow storm hit northeastern New Mexico around New Years. By that time arrangements had been made for New Mexico National Guard training missions to assist humans and livestock stranded in the snow.

During the previous two storms, New Mexico’s livestock trade organizations provided points of contact and there was a little coordination. Most notable was the New Mexico’s Farm & Livestock Bureau’s Erik Ness manning the phone in his garage trying to coordinate donations and drops, acquiring hay, and keeping the media posted.

Since then we have become much more prepared to deal with such emergencies. That is not to say that we cannot always strive to be better, but the ability to address situations is leaps and bounds better.

The Southwest Border Food Protection & Emergency Preparedness Center and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture have spent the last several years training trade organizations, first responders, the cooperative extension service, the New Mexico Livestock Board and countless others on how to rapidly come together to access needs and resources and attempt to quickly begin responding.

The ag emergency network is connected to the state emergency network and all other needed agencies. The first Goliath call initiated by NMDA was on the morning of December 26 to let people know what was coming. Calls continued daily from December 28 through New Year’s Day bringing together the state emergency group, the Department of Transportation, the Environment Department, the National Weather Service, the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) and many others to assess needs and deploy resources.

All of these people who worked through holidays and overtime deserve a gratitude that cannot be strongly enough expressed.

On a final note, these storms have run cyclically perhaps with El Ninos, so let’s not be concerned with global warming or climate change.

After the storm

As clean up continues there are programs that can help with the rebuilding process in agriculture. The USDA FSA has a livestock indemnity program that will repay up to 75 percent of the value of lost livestock up to a cap of $125,000 per business. Initial claims need to be filed with the local FSA as soon as the loss is determined and must be filed within 30 days of the loss to receive payment. Because losses may be found in 2016, claims may be filed both losses in 2015 and in 2016.