LA VISTA, Neb. — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., discussed challenges facing farmers and the difficult process ahead for legislators in writing the 2012 farm bill at National Farmers Union’s 110th anniversary convention in La Vista, Neb., March 5.
“We’ve got to have a farm bill this year,” said Vilsack. “There is no question we need a safety net. Farming is tough. You can be a perfect farmer and still have a bad year. We must have a reliable safety net and it starts with crop insurance.”
The Farmers Union presented two of its highest honors during the convention.
Howard G. Buffett, Dr. Mary Hendrickson, and Odean Olson received Meritorious Service Awards. Meritorious Service Awards honor those who have made particularly noteworthy contributions to agriculture, humanity and Farmers Union. This honor is the highest award the NFU board of directors can bestow.
Buffett received the Award for Meritorious Service to Humanity, while Hendrickson and Olson received the Award for Meritorious Service to Farmers Union and to American Agriculture.
For excellence in membership recruitment, Gary Wertish of Minnesota Farmers Union was presented with the Silver Star Award.
During the convention, 40 county Farmers Union organizations were recognized with Leadership Achievement Awards and three state organizations, North Dakota Farmers Union, South Dakota Farmers Union, and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, received the Outstanding Leadership Award.
“We are a grassroots organization, so our policy comes from individuals, counties, and our state divisions,” said President Roger Johnson. “We greatly appreciate the work done by those we recognized today, and hope that even more individuals and local organizations will be joining them at next year’s convention.”
Johnson and Vice President Claudia Svarstad were re-elected to their respective offices during the convention. Elections for president and vice president are held every two years.
Johnson was first elected NFU president in March 2009. Svarstad was first elected vice president in 2008.
Need new farm system
Of interest during the convention was the unveiling of Phase II of NFU’s study on the Market-Driven Inventory System (MDIS).
“Farmers are entering a potentially dangerous period when it comes to the farm safety net,” said Johnson. “In Washington, we are seeing ‘cut first, ask questions later’ attitude which will cause harm to the farm safety net and take away some of the protections that family farmers and ranchers need.”
He said the market inventory system would give farmers protection similar to what they receive now “at a significantly lower cost to taxpayers.”
The study, commissioned by NFU, found that over the next 10 years, farmers and ranchers would receive a slightly higher income under MDIS than under current policies, while the federal government would spend approximately 40 percent of what it would if current policies were extended.
The study estimated that the current policies would cost a total of $65 billion, while MDIS policies would cost $26 billion from 2012 to 2020. The value of exports sold would also increase $15 billion dollars under MDIS policies during the period studied.
NFU delegates adopted a special order of business calling for the inclusion of the Market-Driven Inventory System in the 2012 farm bill.
Other farm bill policies
Relating to investment in the 2012 farm bill, a second order called for adequate funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) microloan programs, re-establishing the link between federal crop insurance eligibility and compliance with conservation requirements, and including a means of protecting farmers against catastrophic losses in the next farm bill.
The special order of business also urged Congress to include a strong livestock title in the 2012 farm bill that includes mandatory interstate shipment of meat products from state-inspected meat plants, improved food safety provisions, and the creation of the Livestock Indemnity Program and Livestock Forage Program, among other provisions.
NFU delegates also said that nutrition programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program should be reauthorized at 2008 levels or higher and that USDA should provide Electronic Benefit Transfer machines free of charge to all farmers markets, community-supported agriculture systems, farm stands, and other direct marketing outlets so federal nutrition program recipients may use their benefits at healthy food locations.
NFU delegates also called on the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to negotiate with Mexico and Canada to resolve the dispute while preserving the country-of-origin labeling law.
Should that fail, the delegates’ order is seeking that the USTR appeal the WTO decision because it is a frontal assault on U.S. sovereignty, the transparency and integrity of our domestic markets, adversely impacts U.S. food consumers by denying them the information they need to make informed buying decisions.
“NFU has been an outspoken proponent for COOL from the very beginning,” said NFU President Johnson. “The delegates were passionate about this issue and will refuse to accept the WTO’s recent decision without a fair fight.”
“We urge the USTR to take action that will allow us to label food so that we can meet the demands of our customers.”
Beef checkoff scrutiny
NFU delegates also adopted a special order directly related to the checkoff:
“NFU supports amending the Beef Promotion Act, thereby allowing the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) to become a completely independent and freestanding organization,” the order says. “The amended Act should state that no organization may receive contracts for more than 50 percent of the total checkoff dollars on an annual basis.”
It also calls for complete separation between “any policy organization and the Federation of State Beef Councils to provide for complete checkoff accountability.”
NFU delegates also called for the rewrite of the beef checkoff act to house the program with other mandatory checkoff programs.
Delegates passed a special order urging any changes to dairy policy acknowledge the lack of market power among dairy farmers by including meaningful supply management tools.
“If margin insurance goes forward, efforts to ensure that family dairies can remain competitive must be instituted, such as premium subsidies for the first four to five million pounds of milk to help offset the cost of the margin insurance program should be included in the program,” the statement says.
Donation to hunger program
Farmers Union presented Howard G. Buffett with a check for more than $55,000 during the convention’s opening night.
Last year, Buffett challenged Farmers Union members to donate $50,000 to Feeding America, and pledged to match every dollar donated through Farmers Union, up to that amount.
According to Feeding America, 37 million Americans do not get enough to eat, including one-fourth of all children.
“Through their network, Feeding America is able to turn $1 into $17 worth of food for hungry Americans,” Johnson said. “Together, Farmers Union, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and Feeding America were able to provide hungry Americans with more than $1.7 million worth of food.”