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Farm policy priorities at 98th annual convention

Denver—More than 300 delegates, members and guests to Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) 98th Annual Convention, Nov. 17-18, wrapped up by calling for policies to strengthen rural economic development through renewable energy initiatives.

“Delegates to the convention enacted policies calling on federal lawmakers to support a balanced energy policy that protects our nation’s environment and recognizes the special needs of America’s agricultural sector,” said Lee Swenson, RMFU Executive Director. “We support the development of renewable sources of energy as our number one priority in reducing dependence on fossil fuels.”

The policy program adopted encourages the state legislatures to create incentives for producers, community and industry groups to develop community owned facilities that process and distribute fuels made from renewable farm commodities.

RMFU members attending the convention had the opportunity to hear from former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart on the need to stop relying on foreign oil production by developing new sources of energy within the U.S. borders. National Farmers Union (NFU) President Tom Buis addressed convention delegates and provided an overview of what the next Congressional session may mean for agriculture. In talking about trade agreements, Buis commented that the United States will soon be a net importer of agricultural products.

“American agriculture is following the manufacturing line and that is the cheapest production methods. The race to the bottom is not helpful for America’s or any other country’s farmers,” said Buis. “I see a bright spot for American agriculture in the development of renewable energies and in consumers’ continuing to show a desire to buy local and buy fresh. This puts producers in a position to price products based on quality, and no longer be price takers, but instead be price makers.”

Following the recent election, several Farmers Union friends, who have indicated a desire to move forward with a new farm bill, are in key positions, including Sen. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Tom Harkin, D- Iowa. Buis noted four of the six new senators elected are Farmers Union members.

“Add those new people to the existing members that have the Farmers Union philosophy and I think it is really exciting,” said Buis. “We’re going to come out with a farm bill that works and focuses on the cause, not the symptoms.”

RMFU convention goers learned about and had a chance to offer suggestions for inclusion in the 2007 farm bill by engaging in two-way communication with representatives from various U.S. congressional offices. Suggestions offered to these representatives paralleled RMFU’s top policy positions and included better prices for farm commodities, credit and other assistance for beginning farmers, and fairer trade agreements.

“We reminded the congressional representatives who were kind enough to attend our convention that the farm bill needs to benefit food producers and consumers and increase our nation’s food security,” said Monty Niebur, chairman, RMFU Farm Bill Task Force. “There is no reason to have a farm bill that simply provides more opportunity for multi-national conglomerates to pit producers from our country against producers in other countries as a way to drive commodity prices lower.”

Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., spoke to youth and youth leaders during the education awards luncheon telling them of some of the upcoming priorities in Congress. High on the list is the help to move the country to become more energy independent, and to help accomplish that a new subcommittee on energy is being created within the agriculture committee.

“We want to find a way to pay farmers to raise crops that can be used in ethanol and biodiesel production,” said Salazar. “We also offer tax incentives to those who want to invest in ethanol production facilities.”

Helping consumers to understand the importance of agriculture to the food supply is another of Salazar’s concerns. “It will be a sad day in American history if this country ever becomes as dependent on other countries for food as we have on foreign oil,” said Salazar.

As only one of four members of Congress still actively involved in agriculture, Salazar is doing what he can to make it feasible for American agriculture to survive. “When you drive by America’s farms and ranches, you don’t see an ‘R’ or ‘D’ behind the name. You see a livelihood,” Salazar said. “We need to put aside party differences and say first and foremost, we are agriculture. We are the most important thing that America possesses.”

In other RMFU policy discussions, delegates supported language urging the labeling of grassfed cattle, including a prohibition on grass feeding in confinement operations. RMFU members also urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Safety and Inspection Service to require all meat and poultry labeled as “natural” to not be administered growth hormones or sub therapeutic antibiotics.

Other policy enacted asked for the National Commission for Uniform State Laws (NCUSL) to draft cooperative law to allow some flexibility in the organization and management of new generation cooperatives while still preserving the values of the “co-op” brand. Delegates also showed their support for changes in rural health care which included implementation and funding for telemedicine. Other discussions included: animal welfare, immigration, eminent domain, endangered species, animal identification, water, telecommunications and conservation easements.

In other business, RMFU delegates elected Kent Peppler, Mead, Colo., to the office of president. Newly elected to the board was Barb Marty, Henderson, Colo. Re-elected to the RMFU board was Charles Petty, Clovis, N.M.

RMFU members also elected representatives of the organization as delegates to the NFU Convention, March 2-5, in Orlando,Fla. The delegates include: Marge Zavorka, Torrington, Wyo.; Armando Valdez, Antonito, Colo; John Ellis, Boulder, Colo.; Dorys Fehringer, Peetz, Colo.; Gregg Gossett, Portales, N.M.; Trent Lauridson, Eastlake, Colo.; Cleta Felzien, Limon, Colo.; John Noffsker, Monte Vista, Colo.; and Marty Brophy, Eckley, Colo.