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Farmers Union prevails in disaster assistance

By Marilyn Bay Wentz

Congressional appropriation of $2.9 billion in disaster assistance finalized Oct. 11 for crop and livestock producers brought to fruition Farmers Union’s nearly year-long quest for federal assistance. The funds will be distributed to those with losses from early frost, flooding, ongoing drought and other weather-related disasters.

The saga began in early 2004 and was focused primarily on acquiring assistance for producers in RMFU and other Western states with crop and livestock losses due to multiple years of drought. During National Farmers Union’s (NFU) early fly-in and afterwards, NFU persistently called for disaster assistance.

“Farmers Union is the organization that tirelessly petitioned Congress for disaster assistance,” said RMFU President John Stencel. “In the end there were over 60 groups in the coalition, but NFU is the one that kept the effort moving forward.”

At first the plea fell on deaf ears but prior to NFU’s September fly-in, the Senate passed, 92-0, a disaster assistance amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill in the amount of $2.9 billion. In the House, a similar measure was announced. Shortly thereafter, farmers and ranchers from throughout the nation—including five Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) members—came to Washington, D.C., Sept. 20-22, for the NFU Legislative Fly-In.

The RMFU members joined 200 other Farmers Union members to talk with Congress and the Bush administration about the need for disaster assistance, country-of-origin labeling on food, and fairer international trade regulations.

“When we visited congressional offices, I felt confident that Congress would 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.”

Less than a month after their trip to Washington, D.C., Congress responded favorably by enacting disaster assistance. The only thing about the assistance that is not favorable to Farmers Union is that the cost will be offset by cuts in farm bill conservation programs. National Farmers Union has vowed to fight to restore the conservation programs when Congress reconvenes in 2005.

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.