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New Year, New Challenges

2011: Here we go again. It’s time to get out the crystal ball and determine what issues will rise to the top and challenge all of us. What will be the issues that affect our members the most? Where do we need to be on these issues to benefit our members the most? This isn’t like gambling in Las Vegas. It more like swimming in a lake you have never been at before. Everyone tells you what they think is waiting for you underneath the muddy water but you really never know until you jump in.

A quick and I think an accurate assessment is that our lives are going to be affected by government budgets. Education, health care, environment, and the rural economy as a whole will see some more challenges this year. Most states are going to have some huge decisions to make as far as spending and taxation are concerned.

The federal budget also faces huge challenges. It’s about priorities. It’s about what’s more important, people or corporate profits. One can listen to a hundred different economists and get a hundred different opinions. Here at Rocky the priorities are set in our policy, which the members create every year at our state and national conventions.

Rocky’s number one priority is achieving profitability for family farmers and ranchers. That is the lithmus test for all of the decisions made around here. It doesn’t matter what issue we are working on, it’s all about profit for our family farm and ranch members.

The state and federal budgets for the most part are in trouble and we have some fears about the outcomes of the decisions that will have to be made. One of our fears is that the renewable energy agenda that really began in earnest just a few years ago may be put on the back burner. You have all let us know your feelings on the movement and what a huge mistake it would be not to pursue renewable energies full speed ahead.

Education, specifically rural education, is going to be a handful of troubles. Colorado tax laws make it very difficult to fund education properly. Rural schools are in a very difficult situation and we need to watch the education issues very carefully. Rocky has fought long and very hard to make sure the students at Lone Star have the same educational opportunities as the students in Cherry Creek. That’s one battle I know we have won over the years. I have nephews and nieces who have graduated from Lone Star and other rural schools in eastern Colorado and they have done just fine in this world. But if the money situation continues to be tight I expect we’ll have to fight the “education fairness” battle again.

We are fortunate to have Dr. Dale McCall on our Rocky board of directors and Ben Rainbolt as our executive director. Both men are recognized as top notch experts in rural education, so I feel pretty comfortable that we will handle the education challenges properly.

Health care is another handful. Rocky has worked hard to promote technologies such as telemedicine, student grants for medical students to practice in rural areas after graduation, and legislation that increases the authority of nurse practitioners. I know we still have a ways to go on rural health care, but we are worried that the government budget adjustments will create some big obstacles for rural health care, and they may actually throw us for a loss in that battle.

I have mentioned a few of our fears at Rocky but I don’t want to frighten all of you. Rural America also has some positives going for it right now. Most of us have enjoyed some high production years lately in both the crop and livestock industries. Commodity prices continue to rise, and there is a strong feeling this will continue at least in the short term. The general economy as a whole seems to be working its way out of its troubles since the low in 2008. It appears some of our expenses are peaking out or at least leveling to the point where we can deal with them at the farm budget level.

It appears that we may be seeing the beginnings of some competition that could reduce the healthcare expenses that have decimated our families for more than a generation. Despite corporate America doing its best to trash what they call “Obamacare,” the threat of a public option may be doing some good. Hospital board members are making statements like “We need to do more for less.” People tell me Kaiser Permanente has a program out now that competes with Medicare for the senior healthcare dollar, and pharmaceutical people tell me the “fatted calf is leaving the country.” These comments give me hope that if we keep pushing then someday we will have affordable, high quality health care for all Americans.
The other positive you can count on in 2011 is the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. We have staff members in both the insurance and the farm organization who are dedicated to serving our members. We are all family at Rocky, and when challenges arise we will prevail. The key is going to be sticking together to work for a common cause.

I know we are going to have our hands full this next year. But to tell you the truth, I can’t wait for 2011. Let’s get going!