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Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has say in National Farm Policy

AURORA— Twenty-seven members of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) had the opportunity to influence federal farm policy by participating in the National Farmers Union (NFU) 98th anniversary convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, in late February.

Among the public policy priorities adopted during the four-day convention were a stance on the proposed Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for China, reforms to the current farm bill and a strong position on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

During his address to convention delegates, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Glickman announced that a producers’ referendum will be conducted by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service on the mandatory pork checkoff. He did not specify a date for the vote.

“I strongly support the (commodity) checkoffs with which I am involved, yet I believe the checkoffs should be voted on periodically in order to place a high level of accountability on the groups that run the checkoff,” said RMFU Vice President Tom Lauridson, who raises dry land wheat just north of the Denver Metro area.

Another feature of the NFU convention was a panel featuring leaders from most of the major national general and commodity organizations. Lauridson and others were impressed with the level of agreement among panelists.

“All resoundingly agreed on the importance of good agricultural trade agreements and that the goal of these policies should not be to hurt producers from other countries but to enable producers from all countries to derive higher prices,” Lauridson said. “European and Japanese farmers are not our enemies. Fair trade and a fair price does not necessarily mean that we have to be unfair to someone else.”

In addition, delegates to the NFU convention reaffirmed support for: higher and equalized loan rates to prevent market distortions; establishment of both a farmer-owned grain reserve and an energy reserve; and inventory management tools such as a short-term conservation diversion program.

NFU convention delegates addressed public concerns over GMOs by supporting labeling of GMO products, asking the Food and Drug Administration to certify the safety of GMO technologies, and endorsing legislation to ensure farmers are not held liable for health, safety or environmental factors related to GMOs.

Delegates also passed a special order of business calling for a study on consolidation in the U.S. food retailing, marketing and distribution systems, a strengthening of antitrust laws, and incentives to give producers access to additional markets. With an eye on skyrocketing fuel costs, delegates passed a special order of business calling on Congress and the administration to open strategic energy reserves and to create a grain and oil seed reserve for renewable fuel production.

In addition, Colorado’s Mountain View Harvest Cooperative was highlighted during a convention panel. Panelists, which included RMFU President Dave Carter discussed the successes and pitfalls in forming new cooperatives. Mountain View Harvest Cooperative was started by 225 wheat farmers who recently raised $5 million to buy a bakery. Bakery sales have doubled since its purchase by the farmers.

“It takes highly motivated people to organize successful projects such as the Mountain View Harvest Cooperative,” Carter said, adding that it takes about three years to develop a co-op from concept to operation. Also, organizers need to resist the temptation to “adjust” financial projections during the feasibility studies in an attempt to make a cooperative cash flow, he advised.