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Published March 17, 2014, 09:51 AM

NFU discusses 2014 priorities

SANTA FE, N.M. — The National Farmers Union will try to increase its membership and fight for the preservation of country-of-origin labeling for red meat, the Renewable Fuel Standard and fair trade agreements in 2014, NFU President Roger Johnson said during the group’s annual convention in Santa Fe, N.M., which ended March 11.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

SANTA FE, N.M. — The National Farmers Union will try to increase its membership and fight for the preservation of country-of-origin labeling for red meat, the Renewable Fuel Standard and fair trade agreements in 2014, NFU President Roger Johnson said during the group’s annual convention in Santa Fe, N.M., which ended March 11.

In his address to the membership on March 8, Johnson said the group had achieved its most important goals in the farm bill debate — a commodity program that includes target prices and no congressional action to change the country-of-origin labeling program for red meat.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he is “proud of the work we have done on COOL.” He also noted that the World Trade Organization has said that the U.S. could label meat by country of origin, but needed to change the labels to comply with WTO standards.

“We proved that there is no match for the grassroots power of family farmers and ranchers,” Johnson said. “The strength of our organization is in our membership — it always has been, and it always will be.”

Johnson noted that 14 states had gained membership in 2013, but that NFU’s membership, which has been between 250,000 and 300,000, still went down 1 percent during the year. One key to membership growth, Johnson said, is to increase the number of people who buy insurance through Farmers Union.

During the policy development sessions, the delegates also voted to make membership growth the organization’s No. 1 priority for 2014.

The delegates also voted to encourage the state chapters to convince members to contribute $1 per person to the national political action committee, which makes campaign donations. Some delegates objected to the pressure to make PAC donations, but others noted that the resolution only said the states would be “encouraged” to increase PAC donations.

Family farming debate

The delegates also passed a special order to promote the United Nations designation of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. The special order recognizes “the importance of raising the profile of family farming by focusing the world’s attention on its significant role in alleviating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment and achieving sustainable development in rural areas.”

But the discussion on family farming also led to a debate over the definition of family farming that reflected changes in the age of members and a broader membership.

Some members wanted the definition to state that family members had to supply “a majority” of the labor on the farm, but that led to a discussion of exactly what constitutes labor. A Texas delegate noted that he no longer does the physical labor that he performed when he was younger but he considers his management role to be central to the farm’s operation.

The delegates settled on the definition of a family farm as one in which family members provide the “base labor” for the farm and defined base labor as “labor that provides significant support for a farm, business etc., including material day-to-day operational support.”

COOL

Johnson told the membership that the battles over COOL will continue at the WTO and in the courts.

“Although we have achieved a victory in the farm bill, the COOL fight is not over,” said Johnson. “COOL is on the right side of history, but our opponents will keep looking for a back-door win in Congress, and we must remain vigilant.”

He also said that the oil industry’s aggressive lobbying campaign against the Renewable Fuel Standard was responsible for the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce RFS targets for quantities of biofuels.

Johnson said NFU will continue to monitor trade agreements that the group thinks would be of questionable value for family farmers.

A special order expressing dissatisfaction with USDA’s attempts to make changes in the beef checkoff program proved controversial. Delegates from Oklahoma noted that Vilsack has put a lot of effort into analyzing the situation, but delegates from other states said the Beef Industry Checkoff Group set up to deal with the situation appears to be a failure.

Delegates also expressed extreme anger with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s role in running the checkoff because NCBA opposed COOL. The vote on the beef checkoff special order, which states that NFU may “seek its own resolutions to these problems,” was 83 in favor to 23 opposed.

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