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Fuel the focus of fall fly-in

By Jennifer Womack

Members of the Rocky Mountain Farmer Union (RMFU) joined their counterparts from across the nation in Washington, D.C., Sept. 11-14, for the National Farmers Union (NFU) annual fly-in. The event provides Farmers Union members first-hand access to the democratic process with visits to their elected officials to discuss issues important to their industry.

Farmers Union leaders said with so many important issues facing America’s farmers, they were forced to narrow discussions to six primary topics. Considering skyrocketing fuel prices, the cost of bringing in this year’s crop was weighing heavy on the minds of many attendees. Several stories were told of friends and neighbors without enough money to buy the fuel necessary to bring in this fall’s crop.

Southeast Wyoming wheat farmer Brock Beaver, a beginning farmer in his third year, told Wyoming’s congressional delegation that prior to Hurricane Katrina he was anticipating a $1.07 per acre profit on his wheat crop. When fuel prices climbed to $2.50 a gallon and wheat prices fell to $2.85 a bushel, Beaver said his new figures indicated a $6.63 per acre loss.

East central Colorado farmer Ryan Niebur told of the costs associated with pumping his natural gas driven irrigation wells. Noting current natural gas prices hovering in the $12 per m.c.f. range and contracting deadlines fast approaching, he said it will cost $200 per acre to irrigate his fields in 2006. At that price, he noted, a farmer can’t afford to irrigate.

“Natural gas prices have tripled in recent years,” he said. Niebur said fuel costs consume 10 percent of his farm budget. The increases also have been seen in fertilizer where he said costs have doubled.

“We can’t afford to continue paying more for inputs while the price of corn stays at $1.50 per bushel,” said Niebur. He also noted that the price being received for corn today is the same price received in 1950.

“If corn followed inflation it would be bringing over $5 per bushel,” said Ryan Neibur’s father Monty, who also farms in Colorado. “We need fair prices,” he added.

Niebur is expecting a 5-10 percent loss of farms in his community. The fuel prices coupled with low commodity prices, he said, are making it extremely difficult for family farms to stay in business.

Farmers requested a direct payment to offset fuel costs, noting that was the only approach that would ensure farmers receive the aid in a timely fashion to help with this year’s crop. They also called for investigations into price gouging. Legislation along those lines has been introduced since the fly-in’s completion.

Farmers on Capitol Hill also spoke out against fiscal year 2006 cuts in the ag budget. The consensus was that the 2002 farm bill was a six-year contract with agricultural producers and it is only halfway through the life of the contract.

Furthermore, a farm bill is designed to provide consistency and give producers the ability to predict costs and profits. Cutting programs at the halfway point pulls the rug out from underneath producers and rural communities.

Aid programs necessary in the wake of Hurricane Katrina appeared to have staved off any attempts to cut the ag budget prior to the NFU’s arrival in D.C. Since the fly-in, however, cuts again have been proposed.

NFU’s delivered a packet to congressional members and staffers stating, “Now is not the time to be cutting farm programs, reducing food aid to the nation’s needy or risking conservation programs designed to preserve our nation’s resources.”

Citing a multi-year drought in the West, along with early season freezing, hurricanes and flooding in other parts of the country, NFU requested Congress pass emergency disaster assistance. Multiple congressional members and staffers said such action was very likely to be included in efforts to aid direct victims of Hurricane Katrina. NFU also suggested that disaster aid be considered as a component of the farm bill instead of an annual appropriation. Regionalizing those and other USDA programs was also suggested on multiple occasions.

RMFU members also renewed their call for mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) and opposed a privately held animal identification database.

While in town, the group also took the opportunity to honor those members of Congress who have been noteworthy supporters of RMFU efforts. U.S. Reps. Cubin, R-Wyo., and Salazar, D-Colo., along with Sens. Thomas. R-Wyo., Enzi, R-Wyo., and Salazar, D-Colo., were recognized for their efforts to restore competition to our livestock markets, ongoing support for mandatory COOL and fair trade policies.

“RMFU is very proud to join in honoring these five members of Congress from our area,” said John Stencel, RMFU president. “Their support of policies favorable to farmers, ranchers and rural America is very important to sustaining our nation’s farm economy.”

During the trip Stencel pointed out that award recipients represented both Democrats and Republicans. Congresswoman Barbara Cubin told a member of the Wyoming group in attendance that many of the issues were not a split between parties, but rather differing views between urban and rural delegations.

Wyoming Livestock Roundup Managing Editor Jennifer Womack joined the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union for its recent fall fly-in. She can be reached at roundup@wylr.net or at 800-967-1647. The Wyoming Livestock Roundup can be found on-line at www.wylr.net and is dedicated to covering Wyoming’s agricultural industry.