by Olivia Taylor-Puckett
I will have been involved with Kansas Farmers Union for five years this coming summer, and if that time has taught me anything it’s that Farmers Union is an incredible organization. I have been lucky to attend numerous events, several state conventions, three Fly-Ins, a women’s conference, and the national convention. Now, I am honored to be Kansas’s representative on the 2020 National Farmers Union Policy Committee.
In preparation for representing Kansas on the NFU Policy Committee, I thought about what ‘Kansas agriculture’ means and found it much more diverse than one might initially assume. KFU encompasses beginning and established farmers, traditional and specialty crops, ranchers and farmers, local food producers and farms whose harvests are traded in international markets, farms on five acres and five hundred.
What our farming looks like might be diverse but our foundational beliefs are similar: We believe that those who want to farm should be able to, that our rural communities should be vibrant and healthy, that family operations are the backbone of our nation, that markets should be free and fair, and that we should have the freedom to farm the way we believe is best for our families and the land.
I also returned to the founding principles of our organization – the pillars of Legislation, Education, and Cooperation. For 118 years these principles have guided Farmers Union and I wondered how they would present themselves in the policy committee.
TOP: 2020 NFU Policy Committee members and NFU staff are pictured on the rooftop of the NFU building: Mike Stranz, NFU Policy Director; Aaron Shier, NFU Government Relations Representative; Todd Hagenbuch, Rocky Mountain; Olivia Taylor-Puckett, Kansas; Clay Pope, Oklahoma; Sarah Rachor, Montana; Jenny Hopkinson, NFU Senior Government Relations Representative; Justin Sherlock, North Dakota; and Jim Wahle, South Dakota. Not pictured Don Bauer, Illinois.
ABOVE: The policy committee working their books in the Barn. (photos by Hannah Packman of NFU)
It is with this understanding of the diversity of Kansas agriculture, and the need to address critical issues including a changing climate, unsteady trade relations, inadequate rural healthcare, an increasingly consolidated agribusiness environment, and our three pillars that I went to Washington D.C. in early January for a week to participate in the development of National Farmers Union’s 2020 Policy document.
After a week of spending the hours between 8AM and 6PM – with a couple extra hours in the evening spent in ‘serious’ discussion over Guinness at the Dubliner – holed up in the NFU office with the other members of the policy committee, I can assure you that the spirit of Legislation, Education, and Cooperation is alive and well in National Farmers Union. I am proud of the work Todd Hagenbuch-RMFU, Donald Bauer-ILFU, Sarah Rachor-MtFU, Justin Sherlock-NDFU, Clay Pope-AFR, Jim Wahle-SDFU, and I accomplished during this week and I look forward to floor debate at the national convention in Savannah.
The appearance of the pillar of Legislation is perhaps the most obvious. We seven hailing from Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Illinois, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana are tasked with the not-insignificant duty of combining a nation’s worth of agricultural diversity into a cohesive National Farmers Union Policy under which all forms of agriculture can find a home.
This task carries with it great weight, since it is from this document that our government relations team in DC will find their directives when meeting with the United States Department of Agriculture, Congress, and other entities.
Our policy conversations included support for more creative conservation initiatives between departments, access to stable trading markets, more robust support and insurance programs better addressing the effects of extreme weather, combating consolidation in agribusiness, and the vibrancy of rural communities.
It’s almost impossible to gather two or more farmers in a room together and not learn something new and there was no shortage of educating going on with this policy committee.
While this year’s committee is composed of Midwesterners who participate primarily in traditional agriculture, we all have areas of specialty that we shared with the other committee members. Our shared educational experience was not limited to what policies each state wanted, but we also learned about each other as people, and the communities from which we come. We collectively hold deep knowledge in conservation, cooperatives, local food, insurance and support programs, to only name a few. I learned more about sugar beets from Sarah (MT), ARC and PLC from Justin (ND), cooperatives from Jim (SD), and conservation from Clay (OK) in one week than I have in five years.
Not all the learning we did that week was strictly policy oriented, and credit for the camaraderie we developed goes to our fantastic chair from Colorado, Todd Hagenbuch. Jim, Sarah, and Justin shared photos of how up north sinkholes randomly open and can consume half a tractor; Clay shared hilarious “Oklahoma-isms” (but don’t ask me what “drier than a popcorn fart” means because I still don’t quite know); we compared regional foods and only Sarah in eastern Montana knows that cinnamon rolls and chili are the perfect duo.
Our third Farmers Union pillar, and perhaps the most important, is Cooperation, which seems to be in short supply these days, but I can assure you was bountiful with this policy committee. Though this committee represents seven states, multiple regions, crops, and genders we bonded quickly, feeling like old friends by the end of day two.
It is clear that we each came to DC ready to work together, without ego or too strong an agenda, to create a policy document that would serve the entirety of National Farmers Union from Hawaii to New England. There were no tense moments, harsh words, or divisions to be found.
We were happy to second each other’s motions in order to continue debate and to take each other’s perspectives and state mandates into consideration. The special orders we wrote were drafted collectively and with more passion than one might expect from a policy committee. Not a single hour passed that we did not laugh together at least once, and shouldn’t all meetings be that way?
It is our hope as a committee that membership will feel that the proposed 2020 National Farmers Union Policy document makes strong statements regarding the issues that farmers have faced in 2019 and will continue to grapple with in 2020. We paid special attention to issues regarding trade, climate, cost of production, rural health, and consolidation in agribusiness. I know that the suggestions from states added to policy consideration between now and Convention will only make our policy stronger and I look forward to the floor debate in Savannah, Georgia at the beginning of March.