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RMFU 95th annual convention overview

FT. COLLINS, COLO.—Over 300 delegates, members and guests participated here in Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) 95th Annual Convention, Nov. 21-22. The group networked, heard educational speakers, elected officers, adopted policy to guide the organization for the coming 12 months.

Keynoting the convention was National Farmers Union (NFU) President Dave Frederickson, who outlined what he says are “big picture issues that are essential if the family farm is to survive.”

Frederickson noted that the nation’s farmers and ranchers must have access to affordable health care, noting that the proposed New Homestead Act is a good start on encouraging health care professionals to move to rural areas. He lauded President Bush’s “Leave No Child Behind” educational initiative, noting that cash-strapped rural communities “need assurances that funding will be available to meet such mandates.” “As always, NFU’s top priority is restoring profitability to production agriculture,” Frederickson said. “To do this we need trade agreements that benefit producers and laborers, not just the large companies that pit farmers and laborers from one country against those from another in a race to the bottom as far as financial profitability is concerned.”

Frederickson told convention goers that NFU also is continuing to push the Department of Justice to implement anti-trust statutes and Congress to enact new laws that increase competition in agricultural markets.

Delegates adopted a special order of business calling on U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to advocate on behalf of family farmers and ranchers by pushing for country-of-origin labeling and keeping the U.S.-Canadian border closed to beef imports until country-of-origin labeling is implemented, in order not to cause damage to the U.S. beef industry. The special order of business also called on the secretary to implement the wishes of the majority of U.S. pork producers who several years ago voted in favor of rescinding the pork checkoff, and to implement the Conservation Security Act and all rural development programs that are part of the 2002 farm bill.

“We are asking Secretary Veneman to step up to the plate and to fight for independent family producers, which represent the majority of those producing food and fiber in this country,” said RMFU President John Stencel. “Given the economic climate of the farm sector and rural communities, family farmers and ranchers really need an advocate in the secretary of agriculture.”

Colorado delegates to the convention proposed the construction of multi-use medium and small mountain reservoirs as well as improvement and expansion of existing water storage facilities. They also called for provisions requiring the purchasers of farmers’ water rights to reimburse basins of origin for lost tax revenues, lower water levels and other losses incurred when the water purchased is diverted to another basin.

“RMFU members adopted these provisions because they believe a proactive approach will help Colorado conserve and properly store the water it needs for all its citizens, not just for those who can pay the most for this valuable resource,” said RMFU Water Task Force Chairman Richard Wolf, Ault, Colo.

Delegates to the convention addressed the drought in the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union region by calling on the U.S. Congress to pass emergency disaster assistance for producers sufferings losses in recent years. To address weather losses in the future, the RMFU convention is asking for the establishment of a task force to evaluate the effectiveness of crop insurance as a safety net for U.S. farmers and ranchers and to make recommendations to improve the federal program.

Addressing the convention via videotape was Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo. Udall assured RMFU he stands with them in support of country-of-origin food labeling, incentives for renewable energy, and measures to reduce meat packer monopolies. He also told the group he supports the New Homestead Act and implementation of the Conservation Security Program that was passed as part of the 2002 farm bill.

Biopharming, defined as the production of pharmaceutical compounds in genetically engineered food plants, was the topic of a panel during the RMFU convention. The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Patrick Byrne, a member of the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Biopharm Advisory Committee.

Speaking in favor of the technology was John Cevette, executive director the Colorado Corn Growers Association, “Those advocating (further) precautionary measures be applied could slow the progress of the development of pharmaceuticals produced in plants.”

Cevette went on to say that labeling of genetically-modified substances “confuse and scare consumers” and that labeling is an expense he doesn’t want Colorado corn producers to have to shoulder.

Speaking against biopharming was Bill Freese, Friends of the Earth, Washington, D.C., “Genetic engineering is a radical new technology. It’s not just another type of plant breeding. We want better research on the impact to people and the environment, and we want to know who will be liable if something goes wrong.”

RMFU convention delegates from Colorado later adopted policy calling on the commissioner of agriculture and Colorado Legislators to require further independent research and public hearings before permits are issued for open-air planting of biopharmaceutical crops.

RMFU convention attendees enjoyed an address by Dr. Buie Seawell, business ethics professor at the University of Denver. “There’s a failure in our leaders and a failure in our expectations of our leaders,” said Seawell. “To work, democracy requires a sense of vision and a will to follow through on that vision.”

The RMFU convention also offered its participants workshops on preventing bioterrorism on the farm, the impact of farm policy and world trade agreements on U.S. farm income, and renewable energy opportunities.

The active working relationship between RMFU and Colorado State University (CSU) was highlighted throughout the convention. Prior to the official start to the convention, RMFU staff, board members and county officers, Nov. 20, toured research facilities and learned about resources available through CSU. These included visiting CSU’s new greenhouse and wheat breeding programs, food safety laboratory, and hands-on training on university web resources. Dr. Marc Johnson, dean of the college of agricultural sciences, addressed the RMFU convention on ways the CSU and RMFU can continue to work together. The group also heard from Dr. Lee Sommers, director of CSU’s agricultural experiment stations, and Milan Rewerts, director of cooperative extension.

Delegates elected Paul Stout, Broadview, N.M., for a second term as RMFU vice president. Richard Wolf, Ault, Colo., and Charles Petty, Clovis, N.M., were re-elected to seats on the RMFU board of directors.

Delegates also elected nine RMFU members to represent the organization at the annual National Farmers Union Convention to be held March 5-8, 2004, in Billings, Mont. They are: Roland Naibauer, Greeley, Colo.; Michael Gardner, Pine Bluffs, Wyo.; Barb Marty, Henderson, Colo.; Armando Valdez, LaJara, Colo.; Audrey Rosenbrock, Brush, Colo.; Stephanie Peterman, CSU Collegiate Chapter; Russell Grider, Clovis, N.M.; Lawrence Gallegos, Antonito, Colo.; and John Ledingham, CSU Collegiate Chapter.