By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
Local state lawmakers are calling Senate Bill 112 one of the most important pieces of legislation passed by the Legislature.
The bill will help finance watershed restoration and management projects on the Canadian River in Quay County and Ute Creek watershed restoration and management projects in Harding County.
Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, and Sen. Pat Wood, R-Broadview, offered their views on the bill Tuesday at a meeting of the Arch Hurley Conservancy District Board.
SB 112 also changes how New Mexico Water Trust Board members are chosen, allowing fewer to be appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez and more by legislators in affected districts.
Roch said another law, SB 51, called the Right to Farm Act, which makes it harder for suburban dwellers who move next to agricultural areas to complain about nuisances related to agriculture, was another bill that will help farmers and ranchers.
Roch also touted a $75,000 capital outlay allocation to the New Mexico State University Agriculture Experiment Station to purchase some equipment as a benefit to local agriculture.
“They haven’t received a capital outlay for a long time,” Roch said.
Wood, a rancher, focused on difficulties farmers and ranchers deal with today, including rules requiring humane treatment of animals, avoiding the label of factory farm — a term he said one cannot define — and setting rules about how employees are paid and treated.
He said bills like SB 112 are “the most important thing we do” as legislators, but, he said, the process of getting water projects permitted is still too complicated. As a result, he said, there are three times more water projects proposed than the legislature is allowed to fund, due to difficulties in getting them approved.
He said diligence is needed to assure that agricultural interests get adequate representation on state boards that control conservation and water projects.
In addition, he said, farmers and ranchers need to educate “people around us as to what it takes to grow food. People just don’t understand it.”
He also said, “We’ve got to figure out how to get the younger generation back into agriculture.”
Liability issues, he said, are what makes the Right to Farm Act important. Insurance might pay some liability lawsuits related to use of chemicals, he said, but it would only be a matter of time before insurers stopped covering farms and ranches.
Farmers, he said, should also work to make sure they get more of each dollar spent for food.
He used a box of Wheaties cereal as an example. For each box, he said, wheat farmers receive about four cents, but Tiger Woods, the professional golfer whose picture adorns many Wheaties boxes, receives about five cents a box.