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RMFU 97th annual convention wrap up

PUEBLO—More than 250 delegates, members and guests to Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) 97th Annual Convention here, Nov. 18-19, wrapped up by calling for policies to strengthen family farms and ranches in order to provide a safe, healthy food supply.

“Delegates to the convention enacted policies calling on federal lawmakers to bring prices paid to farmers in line with other sectors; to provide a credit system and tax incentives that enable producers to be successful; to enact international trade agreements that allow producers to be profitable; and to establish fair, open and competitive markets,” said John Stencel, RMFU president.

RMFU delegates revamped their policy on federal farm supports, urging the establishment of a support program that takes into consideration the cost of production of commodities. The support program advocated by RMFU delegates would reduce the cost of current farm programs through a limit of support on units of production. The proposal also would provide other tools, such as strategic grain reserves, to enable producers to increase market prices.

“This is an excellent way to provide family-sized farming operations with a price that is comparable with the input costs needed to produce their crops, yet the support would be limited to the production of a typical family farm or ranch,” Stencel said. “Besides being budget-friendly, I believe supporting family agriculture is much more in line with where the public would like to see federal monies spent.” The policy program adopted encourages incentives for producers and community groups to develop and own facilities that process and distribute fuels made from renewable farm commodities. Other policy adopted proposes tax incentives for producers selling their operations to beginning farmers or ranchers.

RMFU members attending the convention had the opportunity to hear from experts and discuss ideas on a variety of topics. A roundtable discussion on a concept called Hometown Competitiveness gave participants an idea of the resources available for communities wishing to work cooperatively to revitalize small, rural communities.

“Rural communities are losing some of their best resources when their young people leave to pursue employment in big cities,” said Robert Mailander, director of the RMFU Cooperative Development Center. “Communities wishing to avoid the loss of these young people will have to work strategically to foster a business environment and infrastructure to keep them employed in their rural communities.

Representatives from local, privately-owned or cooperative organizations that produce and distribute renewable energy told their success stories and offered tips for avoiding pitfalls to others wishing to develop similar projects. The panel of speakers included John Stulp, Prairie Wind; Jeff Bermann, San Juan Biodiesel; and Jim Lenz, Sterling Ethanol. John Covert, of Colorado Working Landscapes, who moderated the renewable energy panel discussion, told the audience that the emphasis of his organization and of RMFU was to encourage individuals and communities to develop small-scale renewable energy projects within their rural communities.

“We do not want to see the renewable energy industry become the domain of corporations, so that business control and revenues are concentrated in just a few hands,” Covert told convention goers.

In addition, convention goers learned about and had a chance to offer suggestions for inclusion in the 2007 farm bill by engaging in two-way communication with representatives from various U.S. congressional offices. Guest panelists included Grant Leslie, agricultural assistant to U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.; Shane Shulz, agricultural assistant to U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo.; Jace Ratzlaff, constituent advocate for U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo.; and Tom Buis, vice president of government relations for National Farmers Union.

Following Shulz’ reminder of the reality that world trade agreements will have a big impact on the structure of the 2007 farm bill, Buis noted that international trade agreements, starting with the North American Free Trade Agreement which was ratified in 1993, have had a negative impact on agriculture.

“Not only have these international trade agreements failed to bring prosperity to producers in the form of higher farm prices, they have had a downward impact on the U.S. agricultural trade surplus,” Buis said. “In 1993, the United States had a $27 billion agricultural surplus. The 2005 surplus is projected to be just $4 billion.”

Monty Niebur, an Akron, Colo., wheat farmer and chair of RMFU’s Farm Bill Task Force said: “The goal of international trade agreements should be to increase commodity prices for our farmers and enable them to achieve profitability from the marketplace, not from federal farm payments.”

“We reminded the congressional representatives who were kind enough to attend our convention that the farm bill needs to benefit food producers and consumers and augment our nation’s food security,” Stencel said. “There is no reason to have a farm bill that simply provides more opportunity for multi-national conglomerates to pit producers from our country against producers in other countries as a way to drive commodity prices lower.”

Dr. Marc Johnson, dean of the college of agricultural sciences at Colorado State University, addressed the RMFU convention, commenting that the college’s intent is to better serve agricultural producers and rural communities through better local research and dissemination of information to the individuals and communities that can use it.

Another feature of the RMFU convention was a panel on water, including Don Ament, Colorado commissioner of agriculture; Colorado Senator Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus; Stephen Saunders, Rocky Mountain Climate Organization; and Lawrence McDonnell, water attorney. Panelists agreed that the cost of water will continue to increase and that there is a need for more storage and greater cooperation among users.

“In the summer, if I drive down a street in a housing development, I see water from lawn sprinklers running down the gutters,” said Jerry Hergenreder, a Longmont, Colo. farmer. “Shouldn’t these urbanites that generally have a lot more resources than farmers be as concerned as we are about conserving water?”

In other business, RMFU delegates elected Todd Hagenbuch, Steamboat Springs, Colo., to the office of vice president. Newly elected to the board was Ken Anderson, Center, Colo. Re-elected to the RMFU board was Jan Kochis, Matheson, Colo.

RMFU members elected to represent the organization as delegates to the National Farmers Union Convention, March 3-5, in Denver, Colo., include: Marvin Schmidt, Riverton, Wyo.; Barb Marty, Henderson, Colo.; Armando Valdez, LaJara, Colo.; Kathleen Kelley, Meeker, Colo.; Kent Peppler, Platteville, Colo.; Marty Brophy, Eckley, Colo., Michael Gardner, Pine Bluffs, Wyo.; and Roland Naibauer, Kersey, Colo.

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