By Dave Carter
Rocky Mountain regional agricultural producers returning from a week of grassroots lobbying in Washington, D.C. in mid- September were greeted with the news that U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, had agreed to hold hearings early next year to examine current farm policy.
The news comes on the heels of the National Farmers Union Legislative Fly-In, which brought more than 200 farmers and ranchers from around the country to Washington, D.C., Sept. 12-15 to lobby for improvements to the “so-called” Freedom to Farm law. Sixteen participants attended the Fly-In from Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.
Wheat producer Dale Petty of Clovis, N.M., noted, “We are extremely pleased that Congress is listening to our call for changes necessary to bring profitibility and stability back to American agriculture. We took our message to the nation’s capital, and we were heard.”
The Farmers Union Fly-In occurred as Congress was returning from its August recess to begin final consideration of an Agricultural Appropriations package intended to direct some immediate financial assistance to support the farm economy.
The Fly-In delegation stressed that a healthy farm economy is vital to protecting a safe, healthy food supply for the American public.
Farmers and ranchers are suffering their fourth consecutive year of negative financial returns as a result of federal policies, corporate concentration and slumping global markets. Net farm income has dropped to historic lows this year, and agricultural lenders estimate more than 25 percent of the nation’s remaining independent agricultural producers could be eliminated during the next year.
“We told members of Congress and the administration that this thing is danged serious in the countryside,” said RMFU Board Chairman Charles Klaseen, a western Colorado rancher. “These are not inefficient producers who are being eliminated, but rather producers who are being destroyed by poor federal policies and corporate concentration trends that are eliminating the market for our products.”
The Farmers Union Fly-In delegation from Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming personally met with 13 of the region’s Congressmen and Senators during their three-day lobbying trip. They also caucused with Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, and Rural Development Undersecretary Jill Long Thompson.
Farmers Union members lobbied for the following measures during their congressional visits:
• Immediate assistance that includes greater emphasis on Loan Deficiency Payments, and development of on-farm storage;
• Rewriting the 1996 Farm Bill to restore an agricultural safety net;
• Addressing the market concentration that is eliminating competitive markets for farm and ranch products;
• Pressuring negotiators at the upcoming World Trade Organization negotiations to address the currency differences that are contributing to the flood of imported agricultural products;
• Passage of country-of-origin labeling legislation that would allow consumers to know where food products originated;
• Passage of mandatory price reporting legislation that would require all buyers of livestock to disclose the prices paid; and
• An increase in funding to assist producers in developing new cooperative marketing enterprises.
Tamara Smith, a southern Colorado rancher/farmer noted, “It was important to visit with members of Congress about how independent producers no longer have a competitive market for our products. I feel we made some real headway in making a difference.”
Petty added, “The 1996 Farm Bill is broken. We told our representatives and senators that the future of agriculture and rural communities depends upon immediate action to improve farm policy.”
Farmers Union has been leading the effort to fix underlying structural flaws in the current farm program. The organization has long advocated a stronger safety net to buffer producers from price volatility. Farmers Union is pressing for a more counter-cyclical safety net mechanism that would trigger relief during low price periods.
The organization is also pushing for tools to deal with large grain supplies, a primary factor leading to low prices. Since 1996, ending stocks of wheat have more than doubled, soybean stocks have tripled and corn stocks have quadrupled.
Farmers Union is advocating programs such as an emergency conservation reserve, an on-farm storage facility loan program, a limited farmer-owned grain reserve and an energy reserve to better manage large grain supplies.
In addition, the organization is pushing to give the secretary of agriculture adequate authority and resources to respond to economic and production disasters in agriculture.