DENVER– Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) will kick off its 96th annual convention, Nov. 19, at 8 am at the Four Points by Sheraton Denver SE, 6363 E. Hampden Ave., Denver, with a keynote address from rural activist Kathleen Kelley, of Meeker, Colo. The convention will conclude with a banquet beginning at 6:30 pm, Nov. 20, featuring an address from National Farmers Union (NFU) President Dave Frederickson.
“As family farmers and ranchers, we are fighting for our livelihoods,” said Kelley, former president of RMFU and currently vice president of Ranchers—Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF). “As a nation, we currently have a surplus that would feed only a small population. Ill-crafted international trade agreements have lead to less profitability, which has reduced U.S. production of food.”
The U.S. agricultural trade surplus has steadily declined over the past decade, since the 1993 enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was the first of many such unilateral and multilateral agreements brokered by the U.S. Trade Representative. During this time, the U.S. cattle population has fallen by some 10 million, according to Kelley. “Trade agreements over the past decade also have forced us to lower our food safety standards on food coming into this country, which has escalated outbreaks of disease from contamination and caused uncertainty among consumers,” Kelley said. “In the past, authorities looked at diseases with a strategy to identify, quarantine and eliminate them. Now, as evidenced in the Bush administration’s reaction to detection of a cow with BSE, we are changing our protocols to make such diseases ‘tolerable’.”
Kelley also notes that commodity checkoff programs have isolated consumers from producers.
“Checkoff managers tell us we need to ‘educate’ the consumers, when what we really need to do is to find out what they want and figure out how best to give it to them,” Kelley said. “We need to more actively engage the consumer and the labor sectors, so that we can have a partnership.”
Frederickson will give an overview of legislative and other activities of the national organization in 2004 and also will talk about working with lawmakers and Bush administration officials in the coming year.
“Now that the elections have concluded, it is time to regroup and refocus. We must set aside any trivial differences and begin addressing the numerous challenges and opportunities facing our nation, and particularly those in rural America,” Frederickson said.
He will specifically address inadequate rural health care, agricultural trade deals, market concentration, educational resources, and infrastructure.
“We must also capitalize on opportunities for economic growth in rural America through policies that encourage cooperative development and rural job creation. We need legislation that promotes production and utilization of more farm-grown fuels. And, we should give consumers the information they need to choose U.S.-produced food through mandatory country-of-origin labeling,” Frederickson said.
Also on the docket for the morning of Nov. 19 is a panel featuring producers who have implemented innovative market programs. “Agricultural Marketing Solutions in a Changing World” will give participants an overview of direct marketing possibilities as well as provide specific ideas for their own operations.
At the awards luncheon Nov. 19, RMFU will present its Legislator of the Year award to U.S. Rep. Elect John Salazar. In the afternoon participants will hear a panel discuss the problems and solutions to providing quality rural health care and containing costs.
Organizational business, including the adoption of policy that will guide RMFU board and staff over the coming 12 months, election of a president and three board directors, and election of delegates to National Farmers Union’s (NFU) annual convention in Louisville, Ky., in late February, will take place Nov. 20. The convention also will feature speeches from RMFU’s 2005 speech contest winners and presentations by members of the RMFU 2005 Senior Youth Advisory Council.