Boulder County commissioners have scrapped a plan for a sustainable agriculture research program that would help it transition away from the use of GMOs after the hunt to find someone to run the program became mired in controversy.
County open space staff placed the blame for the failure squarely on area farmers who fiercely opposed the county's RFP process, alleging it was unethical and biased toward organic farming.
"It has become increasingly clear that key producers and stakeholders (are) unwilling to collaborate," said Eric Lane, parks and open space director, during his remarks to commissoners recommending that the bids be thrown out and a new request for proposals (RFP) not be issued.
Lane went further, stating that the farmers implicitly threatened to sue the county if their preferred bidder, sugar beet co-op Western Sugar, was not selected.
Last year, the county decided it would begin phasing out GMO crops on its open space farms and issued a request for proposals to create a transition program. Two entities bid: The one-man Mountain High Research from Fort Collins, and nonprofit Rodale Institute, a proponent of organic farming.
Commissioners, on staff recommendation, rejected both those bids as insufficient and issued a new RFP, to which Colorado State University and Western Sugar applied. CSU had partnered with Rodale on the original RFP, which an employee of the university helped to write. That raised the ire of farmers and rebukes from an ethics expert.
"The current environment isn't conducive to collaboration," Lane said, "and I don't believe (the project) would be cost effective."
The commissioners agreed, voting unanimously to kill the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Initiative (SARII). Commissioners Elise Jones and Deb Gardner echoed Lane's comments about who is to blame for its failure.
Farmers who would be "beneficiaries" of SARII "are effectively undermining the effort," Jones said. "If we don't have buy-in, we won't have results."
The "lack of cooperation is disappointing," Gardner added.
Cindy Domenico argued that county staff and commissioners shared in the responsibility: "We set this process in motion as it is right now. We are half the issue here in terms of having the polarized issue we do (and) we need to deal with consequences of our actions."
Domenico "hit the nail on the head," said Scott Miller, of Rock Creek Farms, an open space farmer in attendance. It wasn't the farmers who weren't willing to play ball, he said: It was county staff, who he claimed failed to reach out and engage farmers.
Miller said the beet cooperative was the only entity looking out for farmers' interest. "That's why we backed Western Sugar," he said.
Miller joined others earlier this month in calling for a time-out on the GMO ban, which will eliminate genetically engineered corn by 2019 and sugar beets by 2021. Domenico hinted at that possibility, saying the commissioners "owe it to our farmers to have an honest conversation about the timeline we arbitrarily set."
Jones and Gardner, meanwhile, restated their commitment to research on sustainable agriculture. "There are alternative ways to support the effort and alternative ways to do the research," Gardner said, with Jones adding that the county "should move forward with anyone who is willing to partner with us."