By Kent Peppler, President
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is a busy farm organization. We have a lot of irons in the fire requiring our attention 24/7, 365 days a year. We are a diverse organization with many interests and responsibilities including youth camps, our Young Fellows program, food policy, development of cooperatives, insurance operations, and a ton more.
When I decide to write my opinion on a subject it is not uncommon for me to intellectually throw a “make believe” dart at a target full of different subjects that Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is involved in for the good of its members. Today, I threw several darts that landed on several subjects. Let’s take a look at what is keeping us busy.
As we all know, this is an election year. As we attend meetings it is becoming painfully obvious that agriculture is dividing itself into partisan camps that are posturing rather than staying focused on the best interests of rural America. The old saying is “politics makes for strange bedfellows,” but during an election year the strangeness goes away and take sides, throwing policy out the window in an attempt to get their side elected.
RMFU does not play political favoritism games
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union takes special efforts to avoid the election-mode mentality, choosing to focus on the issues at hand, staying true to our policy, and making decisions that benefit family farmers and ranchers according to the priorities set by our members.
In general, ballot issues are a huge challenge to rural America, and in particular to Colorado. The general consensus at RMFU is that agriculture will lose big most of the time if the general public is allowed to vote on ag issues such as water, property rights, minerals, and animal management practices. Let’s be blunt: agriculture does not have the votes nor the money to fight all of the difficult issues that make it on the ballot year by year. We have more faith in the legislative process of debate, along with the checks and balances in the process, than we do in misleading ad campaigns and popular votes.
Our general strategy is to negotiate with groups that support ballot issues that will have an impact on farmers and ranchers. Using this approach we have been able to focus on educating a few key people who can fix problems for agriculture before they get entangled in other causes.
This philosophy of going to the table and negotiating has put us at odds with some of our friends and has helped develop a new working relationship with others. On some oil and gas issues we were actually in agreement with two of the big oil companies. Just imagine RMFU walking hand-in-hand with the likes of Noble and Anadarko. This is what happens when you stick to your policy, especially in an election year. It is about doing the right thing for family farmers and ranchers in the long run and not posturing for a short-term election cycle.
Waters of the U.S deserves attention, not derision
Another topic well worth our attention is the Waters of the United States, or WOTUS. The EPA is proposing new rules concerning the Clean Water Act, and this has opened some old wounds. Anytime the EPA shows up, agriculture gets nervous. Throw in a good old-fashioned partisan election and agriculture begins to look like a piece of pie: cut up and argued over. I think sometimes farm groups don’t even read the rule, they just know if it came from the Obama administration they don’t like it.
National Farmers Union originally was in favor of the proposed rules (see page 9 for details on WOTUS). However, when a few other Farmers Union state organizations showed up at the national board meeting vehemently opposed to the rules, I believe NFU backed off from their full support of the rules. RMFU has not changed its position. Although the EPA has made us nervous many times, we believe these proposed rules will not have a significant adverse affect on family farmers and ranchers. Our consensus is farmers and ranchers are being inundated with a lot of misinformation, which is not uncommon during an election year. We further believe the longer this debate goes on the greater the risk of serious damage to family farmers and ranchers.
Grocery store closures hit hard in rural communities
Rural Colorado has lost another small grocery chain, leaving several small communities without a local source of food. RMFU will be there to assist with any viable option to replace the store, such as a cooperatively owned community store. The real story here is that another simple and essential service is leaving rural America.
This is another chapter in the saga of floundering rural communities. We have lost too many hospitals, care facilities, schools, post offices, and main street businesses. The whole situation makes my heart break. I wish I could snap my fingers and revitalize rural America, but I can’t. The trend of fewer people living in rural communities has been a slow march and painful to watch. We at Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, be it through our farm organization or our insurance operations, will never back away from our commitment to rural America, and especially to the rural communities in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming.
I promise you that.