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Members urged to rise above adversity

AURORA—During tough times agricultural producers need to reflect on their past accomplishments and use their innovation to rise above adversity, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) President John Stencel told the more than 300 members and guests attending the RMFU’s 94th annual convention here, Nov. 22-23.

“Family farmers and ranchers are a resilient bunch,” Stencel said. “In the past we have found solutions, such as buying farm supplies through a cooperative, or more recently, learning how to produce for niche markets, that have kept our operations afloat. We must be just as inventive if we are to survive the drought and commodity prices that have put us in the financial doldrums.”

Colorado producers had a 2002 wheat crop 38 percent of normal, and an estimated 50 percent of the cattle herd has been sold. To date, Congress has refused to pass emergency relief of any sort for producers suffering from economic devastation caused by the worst drought in recorded history.

“Without an allocation, an estimated 20-40 percent of producers could leave farming and ranching as a result of the drought. Even with assistance, some won’t make it,” Stencel said.

Bright spots for production agriculture in 2002 seemed to come from cooperatives. During the convention, the Colorado U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office presented the RMFU Cooperative Development Center a check for nearly $300,000 to assist farmer groups wishing to start cooperatives. In addition, a check for $342,310 was presented to the Mountain View Harvest Cooperative to upgrade and expand machinery in order to diversify its operation. This cooperative is made up of Colorado wheat producers who own a bakery and distribute bread nationwide.

In his report to the membership, Stencel reported RMFU successes in a number of areas including passage of a new federal farm bill which raised loan rates for the first time in over 20 years and mandates country-of-origin labeling for produce, meat, honey and other fresh foods. At the state level, he reported on passage of a bill authorizing the Colorado Department of Agriculture as an organic certifying organization, as well as passage of a bill making farmers markets eligible recipients of the Women, Infant and Children’s feeding program vouchers.

“Our top priority is passage of emergency assistance for farmers and ranchers suffering from the drought,” Stencel said. “In addition, other 2003 legislative priorities will be trade regulations that are farmer and consumer friendly, a renewal energy bill and a ban on packer ownership of livestock prior to slaughter.”

At the state level, Stencel also noted that retaining agricultural use of water is a priority for all RMFU state legislatures.

RMFU, which has a membership of 22,000, in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, holds an annual convention to adopt a policy program for the coming year, to elect board members and officers, and to conduct other business necessary to the operation of the organization.