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Farmers Union members go to Washington, D.C.

DENVER—Five Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) members returned late last week from participating in National Farmers Union’s Legislative Fly-In to Washington, D.C. The farmers and ranchers joined some 200 other producers from throughout the United States who traveled to the nation’s capital to talk with members of Congress and the Bush administration about the needs of farmers, ranchers and rural communities. They specifically addressed the need for disaster assistance due to drought, country-of-origin labeling on food, and fairer international trade regulations.

“I feel confident that Congress will pass a disaster assistance bill to help producers hit by a variety of disasters, which in Colorado is multiple years of drought,” said Monty Niebur, an Akron, Colo., wheat producer who participated in the fly-in.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how receptive members of Congress and their staffers seemed to be to our request for disaster assistance.” Niebur and fellow Farmers Union members visited most all congressional offices to talk about disaster assistance, country-of-origin food labeling and trade regulations. While Niebur is not as optimistic that Congress will move decisively on labeling and trade issues as they seem to be doing on disaster assistance, he is hopeful that Congress is beginning to note what he calls, “the quiet departure from agriculture of the family farm.”

“I think members of Congress are beginning to understand that neither family producers nor the American consumer is getting a fair shake when it comes to farm and retail food prices,” Niebur said. “What we see quietly happening in rural America—that is the departure of family agriculture—is resulting in U.S. Department of Agriculture projections that by 2007, the United States will be a net importer of food.”

According to RMFU President John Stencel, also a fly-in participant, “U.S. farm exports continue to dwindle and are projected this year to be the smallest since 1972, yet U.S. trade negotiators continue to make deals that encourage export levels to drop, and Congress fails to enact policy that would reverse the trend of making it increasingly difficult to make a profit in agricultural production.”

In addition to Niebur and Stencel, RMFU members participating in the fly-in included: Paul Stout, RMFU vice president from Broadview, N.M.; Richard Wolf, RMFU board member from Ault, Colo.; and Bill Waneka, RMFU member from Wheatland, Wyo.

Following the fly-in, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill to include emergency disaster assistance for crop and livestock producers suffering natural disaster losses during this year and last. National Farmers Union joined a group of 22 other farm organizations urging Congress to support the amendment.