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RMFU urges federal farm program changes

DENVER—Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) Executive Director Leland Swenson offered a variety of proposals, including suggestions for the federal agriculture budget, augmenting renewable energy development, and providing a safety net for family producers, before U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Mike Johanns today, in Greeley, Colo., at one of the USDA’s nationwide listening sessions.

Swenson told the session that RMFU wants a federal farm program that supplies adequate support to farmers and ranchers when prices are low and one that gives them the tools to market their commodities with maximum profit. One such tool would be a limited farmer-owned grain reserve that would enable farmers to store grain on their farms when prices are low, and market it when supplies decline.

He also addressed federal budget constraints: “The price support system needs to be revamped to extend only to a certain level of production, so that federal dollars are not going to mega-sized operations,” Swenson said. “Not only would this save millions in federal subsidies, it would allow adequate funding for all operations, up to a level equal to a family farm or ranch.” Swenson urged USDA to place a priority on renewable energy development, including giving partial payments for Conservation Reserve Program land that is planted in environmentally-friendly grasses or oil seed crops and harvested for production of energy. He also encouraged funding for research and rural development projects that focus on alternative energy sources and production.

In a variety of arenas, RMFU asked that USDA policies and grant programs be used to encourage the cooperative development of local food markets, consumer purchases direct from the producer, and recognition of the positive environmental aspects of organic and sustainable farming methods.

“We must place priority on public policies that optimize public health and reduce energy expenditures, two characteristics of food that is locally-produced and marketed by family farms and ranches,” Swenson said.

Swenson asked USDA to fully implement and Congress to fund the Conservation Security Program, passed into law after the destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorists. Additionally, he urged the continuation of funding for school lunch and other food assistance programs, as well as implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labeling, a part of the 2002 farm bill. Although labeling was to be fully implemented by 2004, corporate interests prevailed upon USDA to postpone it, despite overwhelming support of the measure in every public opinion poll.

“Mr. Secretary, today the major grocery chains have programs to track every item their customer purchases. How can they say that labeling with country-of-origin is too costly?”