By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4)– A Montrose farmer-turned-lawmaker is trying to raise the next generation of farmers in Colorado.
Rep. Marc Catlin, a Republican representing Montrose, is one of only two farmers in the state House of Representatives and a fourth generation Coloradan.
“From the time we got off the boat we’ve been farming.”
He grows Olathe Sweet Corn on the Western Slope and worries about who’ll take over the farm when he retires.
“Agriculture people are aging. We’re getting old – average age is 60. It’s my job as an Ag guy to talk to the folks from the urban community – our urban cousins as we call them – of how import we are in their everyday life.”
Catlin says the future of the family farm in Colorado is at risk if the state doesn’t do more to lure young people into farming.
“Our number one export from rural Colorado is our kids. We raise them up – good, solid citizens – we ship them to universities and they can’t afford to come back. If we don’t bring the next generation in, one of the things we’re doing is setting it up perfectly for corporate farming… and that worries me. I think that we need to know who raised our food.”
He’s sponsor of a bill that would create the Agriculture Workforce Development Program to help fund farm internships.
“It’s just like any other job. If you get to be an apprentice on that job, you will be good at it and you will have found out early enough to know yes, this is what I want to do.”
It’s not easy work but he says for those able to “coax a living up out of the ground,” there’s always job security.
“My dad said don’t get too far from people’s food, they’re always going to need it. Agriculture is a big part of this state. It’s a big part of our personality. What we’re hoping to be able to do is help with the succession of agricultural land to the next generation.”
The state’s economy he says depends on it. The agriculture industry is the state’s biggest economic driver, bringing in $40 billion a year.
Under the bill, the Department of Labor will create rules for the program including eligibility, the number of internships and reimbursement. The state will pay half the cost of the internship and the farmer will pay the other half.
The bill has wide bi-partisan support and is expected to make it to Gov. Hickenlooper’s desk.