Story and Photo
By Jack Minor
At a recent forum on agriculture Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway had some sharp words for a Senate staffer asking her boss to lay off local community banks.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and staffers from both Sen. Michael Bennet’s office and Rep Betsy Markey’s office hosted a forum on agriculture, conservation and rural development at Beaty Hall on the Aims Community College campus last week. During the meeting, officials discussed the 2012 farm bill which is still in the early stages of development. After explaining the current government programs, the participants listened to questions from the audience.
Douglas Rademacher is a multi-generational Weld farmer said the cost of doing business, regulations, capital gains and estate taxes made things difficult. “If you’re not born into it unless you have some very deep pockets you won’t be able to get into agriculture.” Rademacher also said they are unable to get credit as agriculture is considered a high risk loan. Several others echoed the same sentiment saying the closing of New Frontier Bank had caused credit to dry up.
This prompted Conway to speak saying “we are in a capital crisis, it has affected small business, it has affected farmers.” Speaking directly to Catherine Ferguson, a staffer for Sen. Bennet he said “your boss is on the central banking committee” have him “call Sheila Bair of the FDIC into his office immediately and tell her to stop the war on community banks” saying they are the backbone of the rural community. Mentioning the Leprino plant coming to Greeley, Conway expressed concerns that local dairy farmers would not be able to expand to meet the needs of the plant and causing Leprino to get their ingredients from other states.
Conway said if Congress can figure out a way to take those toxic assets from larger banks and figure out a way to wall them off, surely they’re smart enough to figure out that the onerous capitalization requirements for smaller banks are killing them. He mentioned a local banker who had $60 million in reserves that he could not loan to local businesses and farmers in the community.
Ferguson said she has heard similar messages as she has travelled around the state for the past three weeks and this would be one of the first conversations she would have with Bennet when she returned to Washington.
John Coppess, the Farm Service Agency Administrator said that only 24 percent of the funds in the Farm Bill make it directly to farmers with the rest going to social programs such as food stamps.