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Convention delegates focus on energy policy

During the recent convention, some 140 RMFU delegates discussed and adopted policies to set RMFU priorities for the coming 12 months. “It is important for our members to discuss policy issues and agree on what is important as we move in some new directions for agriculture,” said newly-elected RMFU President Kent Peppler. “We have some great opportunities ahead of us and policy discussions allow us to unite with a single voice.”

RMFU delegates voted to support allowing Rural Electric Associations to increase net metering from 25 to 100 kilowatts for agricultural operations and rural businesses. Likewise, policy discussion participants favored the idea of the creation of a Renewable Energy Trust Fund, which would be funded by severance taxes from new oil and gas production. Delegates also supported a personal property and sales tax exemption for renewable energy equipment similar to the Farm Equipment Exemption, as well as expanding the role of the Colorado Agricultural Development Authority to include a state loan program for renewable energy projects.

RMFU delegates urged that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develop a definition and standards for food products labeled as “natural”. Delegates also requested that the USDA amend its regulations to require that all meat and poultry labeled as “natural” be required to be sourced from animals that were not administered growth hormones or sub therapeutic antibiotics. This and similar ideas seem to extend from a desire to keep the “natural” label in line with consumers’ expectations.

“Producers feel that preserving the true intent of labeling natural and organic foods allows those products to be marketed truthfully in the marketplace by producers who keep the practice whole,” said Peppler.

Delegates also approved language that supports an immigration policy which will meet the labor needs of the agriculture producer, but will meet the security needs of the states and the nation. RMFU members agreed that anyone seeking permanent resident status in the United States should apply for citizenship prior to having access to citizens’ benefits.

“These are tough discussions for folks in agriculture,” said former RMFU President John Stencel. “Protecting the workforce needed for much of agriculture and at the same time trying to protect the rights of citizens is at the heart of the discussion.”

RMFU members urged the U.S. Forest service to update its forest management plans to deal with current forest health issues. The growing number of trees devastated by the bark beetle is growing at a catastrophic rate. Some possible solutions might be to harvest some of these trees for biofuel production. During policy debate, delegates showed support for the efforts of the National Commission for Uniform State Laws (NCUSL) which is attempting to draft a modern and standard state cooperative law that allows some flexibility in the way co-ops are organized while still preserving the “Co-op” brand. Convention goers involved in policy discussions also approved a number of sections on energy. Delegates want to see water produced in Coal Bed Methane (CBM) development meet existing state water quality standards when it is discharged. Members also opposed efforts to approve commercial leasing of federal shale resources before impacts of development are understood.

“This is an exciting time for RMFU,” said Tony Frank, RMFU Director of Renewable Energy. “We have the chance to be a leader in advancing some energy ideas that will have economic benefits to rural communities.”

The 2006 Policy Committee took an opportunity during this year’s policy debates to eliminate regional policy from RMFU policy. “We found that most of the ideas and concepts in regional could be moved or located within our existing state and national policies,” said Marvin Schmidt, 2006 RMFU Policy Committee member.