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Farmers Union unveils farm bill wish list in Washington

Denver—Two Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) members traveled to Washington, D.C., April 25-27, along with members from 11 other states, for National Farmers Union’s (NFU) unveiling of its farm bill wish list.

Dan Hobbs, Avondale, (near Pueblo) Colo., and Robert Mailander, a producer from Holyoke now residing in Denver, Colo., joined 50 other Farmers Union members from throughout the nation for the three-day event. Participants called on members of Congress; visited with congressional agricultural committee members and staffers; and were briefed by agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“One of the highest priorities for RMFU members is a better federal farm bill,” said Mailander, who heads the RMFU Cooperative Development Center. “We found that members of Congress appreciate the urgency and the need for fundamental change in the next farm bill. Even those who whole-heartedly supported the 1996 ‘freedom to farm bill’ say it is not working and there has to be a better way.” Both Mailander and Hobbs, who grows organic garlic and markets direct to consumers, agree that the new farm bill needs to encourage farmer-owned cooperatives and other direct marketing alternatives.

“Consumers are looking for quality, locally-produced food, and selling direct is one way independent producers can compete with the ‘big guys’,” Hobbs said.

The goal of the NFU farm bill proposal is for producers to receive 100 percent of the entire cost of production plus a reasonable profit from the marketplace. Elements of the proposal deal both with traditional and alternative marketing opportunities.

Key features in the NFU-proposed farm bill of interest to area producers include:
• Strong safety net through better marketing loan rates to help farmers avoid losses when commodity prices are low
• Limited commodity reserves for a variety of purposes including humanitarian assistance and renewable fuels
• Programs that encourage renewable energy development
• Mandatory country-of-origin labeling on meat and produce
• Incentives and technical assistance for conservation and environmental improvements
• Expanded international and domestic marketing opportunities

NFU President Leland Swenson calls the proposal “fair” and “fiscally responsible.”
“It is a plan that provides the greatest social, economic and environmental benefit to our rural areas and to all of America,” Swenson said.