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RMFU convention highlights

By Marilyn Bay Wentz

“Family” and “future” were emphasized at Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s 92nd Annual Convention, Nov. 17-18, in Aurora, Colo. Nearly 250 members, ranging in age from toddlers to octogenarians attended the two-day event, which carried the theme “Family Agriculture is the Future.”

In addressing the “future,” convention delegates called on national policymakers to revamp U.S. trade laws and to open the 1996 farm bill for revisions prior to its scheduled re-write in 2002.

A special order of business, passed by delegates, stated, “Trade rules that give national governments the flexibility to deal with domestic farm policy must be the focus of the U.S. agenda for upcoming World Trade Organization talks.” The resolution specified that upcoming trade talks address the impact of currency fluctuations on trade, the dispute resolution process, harmonization of environmental standards, compensation of producers for unfair imports, and more authority to congressional agriculture committees on agricultural trade issues.

Another special order of business called for the RMFU board of directors to appoint a committee to suggest changes to current farm policy to provide a safety net for family farmers and ranchers. The resolution noted that many producers are experiencing the lowest commodity prices since the 1930’s despite rising retail prices for food. The farmers’ share of the food dollar has declined by 10 percent per year since enactment of the 1996 farm bill, the resolution states.

RMFU President Dave Carter also addressed the need for long-term change in farm policy.

“It’s not sustainable to go to Washington, D.C., every year to ask for an emergency allocation,” Carter said. “We need farm programs that will give family producers a safety net. Our threat is not from environmentalists or consumers who don’t understand us but from those who want to keep the status quo in farm policy.”

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Leland Swenson agreed with Carter that ad hoc emergency assistance is neither good for farmers nor palatable to consumers. He invited RMFU members to join NFU efforts to shore up support for new farm policies in 2001 even though writing of the next farm bill is not expected until the following year. Among NFU’s priorities for the next farm bill are higher commodity loan rates, better management of commodity supplies, a farmer-owned reserve, lessening the impact of concentration in the agricultural marketplace, and trade policies than are favorable to U.S. producers.

“We’ve seen a big increase in imported foods, and control of the U.S. food supply is an important issue,” Swenson said. “Concentration, trade and farm policy are all connected and impact the U.S. food supply.”

Previous trade negotiations, along with current U.S. farm policy, have left American producers vulnerable to a highly volatile global marketplace,” said RMFU Policy Committee Chairperson Wade Wilson of Pleasant View, Colo. “Not only is the playing field not level, U.S. producers are having to play with one arm behind their backs. We must have changes in domestic farm and trade policy if we are to maintain a viable system of family farm agriculture.”

Carter concurred that changes to federal farm policy are only part of the solution. He outlined a need for better enforcement of anti-trust provisions, country-of-origin labeling on food, prohibition of captive supply by packers, and encouragement of farmer-owned value-added marketing cooperatives.

NFU Senior (political) Analyst Nancy Danielson provided convention goers an overview of 2000 key agricultural issues in Washington, D.C. and predicted what they might expect in 2001. In addition, former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, Greeley, Colo., and former U.S. Rep. Ray Kogovsek , Pueblo (?), Colo., squared off in a panel entitled “Politics Then and Now,” which was moderated by Channel 7 TV political analyst Jim Monaghan.

Banquet speaker Stephän Bell, founder of the Bell Consulting Group, urged RMFU members to get the message about the value and economic difficulties facing them out to the public. He noted that nine of the nine Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico members of Congress who voted for the 1996 farm bill are still in office.

“You need to vote and you need to educate your neighbors about the economic problems facing farmers today,” Bell said. “Tell them that wheat prices have fallen 45 percent since the 1996 farm bill was enacted but that input cost have risen 9 percent during the same time period.”

Other business conducted by the convention included the election of Elwin Poe, Holyoke, Colo., and Charles Petty, Clovis, N.M., to the RMFU board of directors. Dave Carter, who has served as RMFU president since 1993, was re-elected for another two-year term.

RMFU used its convention to recognize former Colorado Sen. Tilman Bishop for his Legislative Service to Agriculture. Robert Eisenach, Ft. Morgan, Colo., was given RMFU’s Meritorious Service Award. A special tribute also was made to Kathleen Sullivan Kelley, Meeker, Colo., for her advocacy on behalf of family farmers and ranchers.

Convention delegates also elected nine delegates to represent them at National Farmers Union’s annual convention in Rochester, N.Y., March 2-5, 2001. Those elected are:
• Kaprice Franke, Akron, Colo.;
• Jerry Hergenreder, Longmont, Colo.;
• Sue Jarrett, Wray, Colo.;
• Fred Macy, Pine Bluffs, Wyo.;
• Paul New, Mosca, Colo.;
• John Noffsker, Monte Vista, Colo.;
• Dale Petty, Clovis, N.M.;
• Donna Roberts, Laird, Colo.;
• Tamara Smith, Hasty, Colo.