Letter from Langdon: The NFU

We argue, we fuss, we eventually find the way we think is best for the country's farmers. Yep, just another National Farmers Union convention.

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I’m a member of the National Farmers Union. 

People think our name means we bargain collectively. In a way that’s true. 

As a group, we bargain with government by lobbying our elected representatives to keep our living and way of life out of the hands of big business and foreign governments. Sometimes we need better laws, and sometimes what we really need is enforcement of the laws we have. 

But we don’t go on strike. Someone always has to feed the cows and plant the corn on time. What we really try to do is unite family farmers in search of better markets and farm policies to better serve our own interests and the people we’re trying to feed, fuel, and clothe.  

If you are one of almost 7 billion people in the world, chances are sometime during your life, or maybe throughout your life, you will depend on people like me who grow your food on our farms here in America.

There are lots of reasons why I like the Farmers Union and want it to represent me in Washington, DC. For one thing we’re a little bit rowdy. That makes it fun. We have good discussions and lots of opinions. That always comes out during the annual convention when delegates take to the policy floor to update and renew on paper all the things we believe and stand for in the field. 

Some organizations do their policy work a little more on the sly, with just a few members making decisions and then presenting a final platform to membership. Their leadership keeps a firm hand on the helm. Pity anyone who ever tries to do that at a NFU convention.

Things could get out of hand. 

The Eight Special Orders of 2012

The number one thing I like about being part of Farmers Union is policy. I like the debate, the laughter when someone uses humor to make a point, the applause when someone gets it right from one of the microphones on the floor.

And most of the time I like the finished product because it truly is corn-fed beef-and-biscuits democracy at work.

Policy and bylaws are first studied by a national policy committee, its members selected from the states. Front and center on their agenda are the special orders of business. Those represent issues we see as most important to address in the coming year. This year we adopted eight of those special orders:

1. The average U.S. farmer is 57 years old. NFU calls on USDA to establish a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Act to encourage more young independent Americans to establish themselves as domestic food and energy producers. 

2. A long time ago, U.S. beef producers agreed to tax themselves for the purposes of research and promotion of their product. The tax is called a checkoff and is collected at the point of sale of live animals and deducted from every seller’s payment. 

The way that money is spent has come under control of one organization: the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which includes most, if not all, large packers in the country. That needs to change so that the beef checkoff is used fairly to promote family farm producers.

3. Americans should know where their food comes from. 

Today, seafood is labeled thanks to a section of the Farm Bill called COOL, an acronym for Country of Origin Labeling. But inaction by Congress and our country’s participation in the World Trade Organization have prevented U.S. farm products from being labeled in stores. It is our sovereign right to identify our own safe, high-quality products to our consumers. We should ignore WTO rules about COOL.

4. We don’t like fast track trade authority because it always seems to place agricultural trade on the sideline. That’s why NFU calls on Congress to replace Fast Track with better negotiations that treat our ag products fairly in world markets.

5. NFU sponsored a study done by Dr. Daryll Ray of Tennessee that proves a grain reserve could have eliminated much of the last few years’ farm bill expense stemming from low prices and over production. 

With severe cuts to the federal budget unavoidable, the NFU thinks we need to establish a strategic grain reserve not only to support prices when they are low, but to guarantee access to adequate grain supplies when production falls. That should help lower the cost of maintaining a good farm safety net for farmers when weather or markets cause financial distress.

The Missouri delegation: Mike Waltemath, Richard Oswald (me!), Steve Wright, Barbara Ross, Bill Heffernan, Mary Hendrickson (and her award), Tom Coudron, Marcia Schachtsiek and Lowell Schachtsiek.
6. The U.S. Constitution calls on Congress to establish postal roads and post offices. Today it’s easy to see the benefits of their foresight. 

Now Congress is telling the postal service they must pre-fund healthcare for all employees or close down many rural offices. The NFU understands the awful consequence of such a narrow mindset on rural communities, jobs, and infrastructure. We support maintaining the USPS in rural America.

7. The number of dairies in the U.S. has been in decline for years. Today we have fewer, but bigger dairies and a marketing system preyed upon by foreign exporters and large corporations. 

Many dairy producers, especially smaller ones, must forward-sell their product in order to be able to sell at all. That means they never really see fair and openly traded markets or receive a good price. 

Milk and all the things we get from it are important to child and adult nutrition. Congress should act to close trade loopholes that victimize our own milk production while establishing a safety net for dairy that protects average and smaller sized dairies from unfair competition and markets.

8. The Farm Bill serves as the bible for U.S. agriculture. The way Congress writes the Farm Bill determines future food and agricultural production for years to come. 

The Farm Bill should include a good nutrition title, strong renewable energy policy, conservation, fair livestock policy including transparent markets, Country of Origin Labeling, and food safety that makes food better and more available both locally and nationally.

And a New Logo

On top of newly approved policies and bylaws, Farmers Union has a new logo. We’ve always leaned heavily on the plow and three points of the NFU triangle; cooperation, education, and legislation. Backing all that up was a picture of a barn and silo. 

But today not many know what a silo is, and barns are considered relics of a horse-powered past. Because farming has moved into modern times the NFU board of directors voted to retire cherished older symbols and adopt a new symbol that in its simplicity stands for many things. 

It helps to know where you came from. Here’s the Nebraska NFU convention of 1941, meeting at the Hotel Roma in Omaha.

Three blue stars represent points of the triangle. Below and to the right are rolling fields of grain or, (you be the judge) maybe ocean waves above New England fishing grounds. NFU members aren’t just tillers of the earth. We are fishermen, cranberry growers, farm to market growers, dairymen, ranchers, hog breeders, and more. 

Still, when we honor our best “Feeding America” types like Howard Buffett; or Dr. Mary Hendrickson (who both promotes farm-to-market selling and fights market concentration); or longtime NFU stalwart Odean Olson, the Meritorious Service award they receive is a basic design, a replica of a horse drawn plow atop a walnut pedestal to remind us that in order to know where we’re going we must know where it is we came from. 

Generations later, for descendants of sod busting immigrants, or multi-generational New England fishermen, the work of filling empty bellies continues. 

Ours is an old job with modern ties to the future.

We’re National Farmers Union…United to Grow Family Agriculture.

Richard Oswald is the president of the NFU chapter in Missouri.

 

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