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RMFU 95th annual convention recap

By Marilyn Bay Wentz

Over 300 delegates, members and guests participated in the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) 95th Annual Convention, Nov. 21-22, in Ft. Collins, Colo.

“As always, NFU’s top priority is restoring profitability to production agriculture,” said keynote speaker, National Farmers Union (NFU) President Dave Frederickson. “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 Adopt Policy

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. 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 fight for independent family producers, which represent the majority of those producing food and fiber in this country,” said RMFU President John Stencel.

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.

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 suffering 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.

Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo. Addresses Convention

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 Debated

Biopharming, defined as the production of pharmaceutical compounds in genetically engineered food plants, was the topic of a panel during the 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 “confuses and scares 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.

Business Ethicist Dr. Buie Seawell Discusses Leadership

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.”

Working Relationship Between Colorado State University (CSU) and RMFU Highlighted

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 convention on ways the CSU and RMFU can continue to work together.

Delegates Elect Officers, NFU Convention Representatives

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 NFU 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.

RMFU Presents Awards

RMFU presented its Legislator of the Year Award to Colorado Speaker of the House Lola Spradley, R-Beulah, for her support of renewable energy. Spradley sponsored a renewable fuels standard bill during the 2003 Colorado legislative session. Although the measure was defeated, the speaker has said she will continue to support a renewable fuels standard in Colorado.

Evan Slack, of the Evan Slack Network based in Denver, Colo. was presented RMFU’s 2003 Excellence in News Media Award. Slack’s broadcasts are heard on more than 40 radio stations in eight states.

RMFU also honored Bob McLavey, former deputy commissioner of agriculture at the Colorado Department of Agriculture, who served in this capacity for 16 years prior to leaving the department earlier this year.

Bob and Geoff Taylor, of Ft. Morgan, Colo., were recognized as RMFU’s (Insurance) Agents of the Year. The award was given to the Taylors for their outstanding insurance business, as well as for their willingness to work with RMFU on issues affecting family farmers and ranchers.

In addition, RMFU recognized the many years of commitment and the accomplishments of the late Elton Miller, Platteville, Colo.; and the late Rudolph Rutar, Torrington, Wyo. Both served on the RMFU board of directors.

In offering the tribute to Rutar and Miller, RMFU President John Stencel said: “Rudy and Elton are both fine examples of selfless leaders who truly embody the pioneer spirit.”

Also honored were the 2003 Torchbearers, including Jessica Brophy, daughter of Martin Brophy, Yuma County, Colo.; Chris Roelle, son of Dennis and Ann Roelle, Logan County, Colo.; and Loretta Meier, daughter of Tim and Carole Meier, Logan County, Colo.

Another highlight of the convention was the presentation of speeches by the winner and runner-up of RMFU’s Annual Speech Contest. Runner-up Margaret Mailander, Holyoke, Colo., spoke on the value and current RMFU cooperative work, and winner Laura Nelson, Pine Bluffs, Wyo., spoke on the importance of cooperatives to farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

Honorees at the convention for 30 years or more of service as secretary-treasurer of their county Farmers Union included Marjorie Zavorka, Torrington,Wyo., Dorys Fehringer, Peetz, Colo.; and Hazel Jess, Ft. Morgan, Colo.