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RMFU wraps up 96th annual convention

DENVER—Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) members have concluded the organization’s 96th annual convention, held here Nov. 19-20. During the convention, delegates and members heard speakers on public policy issues, agricultural marketing, and rural health care. Delegates also passed policies to set RMFU priorities for the coming 12 months.

“It is very important for family farmers and ranchers to come together to discuss policy issues and agree on what is important to us as an organization that is aimed at strengthening family farm and ranch agriculture,” said RMFU President John Stencel, who was elected to another two-year term. “The information gained at this convention empowers individual members, and our policy position unifies us in a single voice before policymakers at the county, state and national levels.”

RMFU delegates called on Congress to return the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to its original purpose of maintaining the nation’s system of family agriculture and strengthening rural communities. The special order of business also called for the U.S. government to stop its support of international trade agreements that benefit multinational corporations at the expense of U.S. food independence and sovereignty. “Producers feel that most of USDA’s funding and personnel are focused on bolstering multinational agribusiness corporations, not the family farm structure that has served our country so well for more than two centuries,” said Stencel.

Convention keynoter Kathleen Kelley, a Meeker, Colo., rancher and vice president of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) said that exports have not benefited the producers’ bottom line: “Despite a huge decrease in imports this year due to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) detection, U.S. producers have experienced record cattle prices. This shows us that the best market U.S. producers have is right here at home.”

The convention urged the U.S. Congress not to pass the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). “Besides the damage CAFTA would do to U.S. sugar and other producers, RMFU delegates were wise in acknowledging that the rules established in this agreement will set a precedence for future trade agreements,” said RMFU President John Stencel.

Convention goers learned that according to USDA and Bureau of Census data published August 16, 2004, the U.S. agricultural balance of trade has fallen from a surplus of $24.7 billion in 1995 to a surplus of just $10.5 billion in 2003. This represents a 62 percent drop in the balance of trade in just eight years. As of August of this year, USDA forecast only a $2.5 billion agricultural surplus for 2005.

“A decade ago, the U.S. agricultural trade surplus was the bright spot in the U.S. balance of trade. Today, the U.S. trade deficit has reached record highs and will impact the currency value and the overall U.S. economy,” said Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen, a featured speaker at the RMFU convention.

In addition, delegates called on Congress to implement country-of-origin food labeling before instituting a national animal identification system. An emphasis was also made on finding better and more affordable health care services in rural areas. RMFU delegates from Colorado called on the Colorado Legislature to address state laws resulting in drastic state budget cuts, many of which are affecting agricultural producers and rural communities, and they also urged support of the Colorado State Fair through the state income tax optional checkoff.