MFU Members Help Shape National Policy

Family farmers and ranchers from Montana traveled to Scottsdale, AZ., March 10-12 for the 122nd National Farmers Union convention. Delegates and attendees heard from nationally known speakers, administration officials, and each other during policy debate.

Over the past year, NFU has increased membership by more than 12,600 members, as well as continued the impactful Fairness for Farmers campaign. This campaign and meetings with administration officials in the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Environmental Quality have elevated issues of importance to farmers, like right to repair, and anti-competitive practices and market concentration.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also took time to address attendees with updates on the Farm Bill and answer questions.

He also announced a Product of the USA labeling rule that requires packages of meat labeled as “Product of the USA” to be born, raised, and processed in the USA. Product with packaging that includes an image of the U.S. flag must also be born, raised, and processed in the U.S.

MFU President Walter Schweitzer called the rule a “great first step” toward mandatory country of origin labeling and said the rule will give U.S. ranchers credit for their high- quality product and give consumers confidence because of truthful labels.

Half of the convention schedule is dedicated to policy considerations, debate, and votes. Policy informs the organization and dictates which issues NFU’s president and staff will promote or oppose. Montana’s delegation played an active role during policy consideration.

Federal farm subsidies were one issue that was discussed during policy work. As a family farm organization, NFU is concerned that 85 percent of farm subsidy money goes to the largest 15 percent of farms. Numerous policy proposals discussed methods of redirecting government funding. Most proposals generated spirited debate but failed to pass. One proposal would have altered the way the Farm Service Agency Credit Programs evaluated retirement accounts. The change was opposed by Montana delegate Sarah Degn who said, “I came back to the farm with a little bit saved in a retirement account from a previous career. Having to liquidate that account to finance my farm or call that an asset to acquire a loan would have incurred a huge penalty. Farmers deserve to save for retirement too.”

Sometimes national policy must be expanded because regional or state needs have become relevant nationally. Erik Somerfeld, an MFU board member and veteran delegate, proposed and successfully passed new policy.

“MFU has had policy opposing the removal of dams on the Snake and Columbia River systems since 1999. Until the last year or so, we hadn’t been worried that this could happen. Now that it is possible, we passed policy at National to protect the hydropower produced and the grain shipped by those river systems,” Somerfeld explained.

Whether it was networking with NFU members from around the country, learning from industry experts, hearing updates from Biden Administration officials about their headway tackling anti-competitive practices, or helping craft policy to direct the organization in the coming year, MFU delegates left convention hopeful, inspired, and more dedicated to the success of family farms and ranches than ever.

“I’m inspired and reminded why farming is so important. I come home ready and eager to go to work,” MFU member John Wicks said. “This administration is listening to our concerns and actually taking action. It’s refreshing to see the work of all these people come to fruition for family farms, and it shows that being involved is important and is the only way to get results.”

Montana Farmers Union has worked more than 100 years for family farms, ranches, and rural communities. MFU supports its members through: Strong education programs for both youth and adults, by advocating member-driven policies and legislation at the state and federal level, and cooperation through producer-owned co-ops. For more information, visit http://www.montanafarmersunion.com.

 

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