Local and National Ag Leaders address 500 Attendees in Downtown Wichita
Kansas Farmers Union President Donn Teske and a large contingent of KFU members recently traveled to the 113th National Farmers Union convention, which was held March 14-17, 2015 in Wichita, KS. The four-day event drew nearly 480 family farmers, ranchers, and fishermen from across the country, and featured a number of high-profile speakers including USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin. Other events included tours of local farms and area attractions, plus targeted breakout sessions focusing on issues ranging from personal health to farm safety to climate change and NFU history.
“Our convention theme, ‘Driving the Future of Agriculture,’ aptly describes what happened here this week,” NFU President Roger Johnson said at the close of the convention. “NFU members not only heard from key policy makers, but were personally involved in shaping future policy for American agriculture that will make family farmers and ranchers more successful while they continue to be the best stewards of our nation’s lands,” said Johnson.
Teske, who also serves as NFU Vice President said, “It was truly an honor to host NFU members from across the country in Kansas. I heard so many positive comments about Wichita, the tours, hotel, food, and speakers, with many saying they plan to come back to Kansas with their families.”
The heart and soul of this convention, like every convention, were the nuts and bolts of policy making, whereby NFU delegates from across this great nation debate and vote on driving the future of agriculture. “As always, NFU delegates took the policy discussion and adoption process very seriously, considering the needs of family farmers and ranchers and planning the best path forward for them and the future of American agriculture,” said Johnson.
Delegates to the convention adopted 6 special orders: Family Farming and Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL); Family Farming and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS); Family Farming and Transparency in Livestock Markets; Family Farming and Cotton in the 2014 Farm Bill; Family Farming and Trade Policy; Family Farming and Animal Disease Protection and Research.
“NFU is one of the few organizations in Washington, D.C., that is truly driven by its members, who meet with each other as well as elected officials and government agencies, and then convene once a year to discuss the organization’s overall policies and vision for policies important to family farmers and ranchers at our annual convention,” said NFU President Roger Johnson.
“There are a lot of important policies that are essential to the economic health of family farmers, ranchers and rural America, and we need to be ready to take an active role in the states and in Washington to continue to shore up support for them in Congress,” Johnson said.
KFU delegate and NFU honorary historian Tom Giessel, Larned, said, “The policy process often times takes me back to my youth when we butchered hogs. In making policy, it takes a little time to get organized, and all seems to go pretty smooth at first. Then at some point, from over your shoulder, you hear a shot and a loud squeal. The process has begun.” Giessel goes on to say, “Next the slicing and dicing. The heat gets turned up and the long grind starts. But, the end result always turns out fine, as nearly every delegate makes a contribution to the final product. Yes, it is a lot like making sausage, and you really don’t want to see everything that went into it, but the final product is something to savor!”
Some of Giessel’s favorite moments during annual convention include reuniting with his many friends from all over the country. He adds, “Observing new members come into the Union, and watching others mature over time is most gratifying. The NFU symbol of the oak tree lives on. New leaves sprouting, old ones dropping off and fading away, but a strong and sturdy organization that may bend, but never breaks, with deep roots reaching across the country.”
Matt Ubel, first-time national convention delegate from Wheaton, said, “I was honored to be a delegate at national convention. Having national convention in Kansas doesn’t happen very often, so being able to be part of that made it extra special.” Ubel continued, “Being part of this (policy) process hit home for me that government starts at the community level. To take a working document from the county level and refine it to policy that is nationally recognized is quite an achievement.”
“NFU’s 113 years have been a tale of solving problems and building support for policies to help family farmers and rural America. NFU was founded in Point, Texas, at a time when America’s farmers were literally on their own. There were no government safety nets, no available marketing tools, no control over prices or profit margins and no ability to stand up to the large conglomerates which were already starting to dominate American business,” said NFU President Roger Johnson.
Johnson reminded attendees of the symbolism behind the Farmers Union triangle. “For me, it’s been a symbol that has been with me throughout my lifetime: education, cooperation and legislation. Taken together, these three sides have built an organization that has truly driven the future of agriculture,” he noted.
National Farmers Union Foundation (NFUF) held its sixth annual “Evening for Education” gala on Sunday evening. The featured speaker for the evening was Jim Richardson, well-known photographer from National Geographic Magazine and resident of Lindsborg, KS, who shared incredible insights about his experiences from across the globe, especially relating to the history and development of agriculture, soil health, and feeding the growing world population.
“NFUF is the educational wing of our organization, and the planning and support for the education opportunities it provides – ranging from summer camps for rural teens to women’s conferences, collegiate chapters of NFU and hands-on instruction for beginning farmers – is critical to driving the future of American agriculture,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson.
More than 320 people from across the country attended the event. “Thanks to the great generosity of those participating in the event, NFUF will be able to continue to provide high-quality leadership and training for the future leaders of American agriculture,” said Johnson. “The Foundation has established quite a reputation for itself, and these funds will be well-used,” he said. Over $3,000.00 was raised through silent auction donations from KFU members alone.
In his Monday morning address to NFU convention attendees, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced $97 million in programs to support the continued development of farmers markets, farm to school efforts and rural economies and will also expand risk management tools for specialty crops and limited-resource farmers.
“Increasing market opportunities for local food producers is a sound investment in America’s rural economies, while also increasing access to healthy food for our nation’s families,” Vilsack told the more than 470 attendees of the National Farmers Union (NFU) convention.
“There are over 400 school systems in this country that are purchasing locally and this is a tremendous opportunity to help rebuild the rural economy,” said Vilsack, the 30th Secretary of Agriculture. He noted that the 2012 Census of Agriculture indicated more than 160,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are tapping into growing consumer demand by selling their products locally.
“Consumer demand for local, healthy food is skyrocketing in schools, hospitals and wholesalers. These grant opportunities allow farmers and ranchers to meet this demand, and feed our nation’s kids.”
Vilsack, who is a member of the Iowa Farmers Union, said that NFU was fortunate to have strong leadership in the nation’s capital and had been very successful in reminding those in Washington about the value of family farms. “Farmers Union leaders are on top of things. They are passionate, persistent and relentless in getting their message out to have policies and programs to support family farmers and ranchers. “
Vilsack pointed out that the farm to school movement and other innovative approaches to directly marketing fresh healthy food to consumers was a “vibrant growth area that is drawing young people back to rural communities, generating jobs and improving quality of life in rural communities,” and has been a priority for USDA over the last few years.
For the nation’s specialty crop farmers, beginning farmers and limited-resource producers who have lacked adequate risk management tools for generations, Secretary Vilsack also announced changes in the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) to help increase access to much-needed resources. “The Farm Bill is focused on making sure the next generation of farmers gets the help they need,” allowing new farmers to pay lower premium costs when starting up.
NFU President Roger Johnson praised the additional funds, noting, “The Secretary has been a very good friend to family farmers and ranchers and these new investments in rural America will pay off in spades.”
Vilsack once again noted that he remains a strong advocate of Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “I love the RFS – I’m for RFS,” he said. “It’s taken a long time in part because the market is fluctuating so dramatically.”
“We need to make sure Congress doesn’t do anything to damage it or repeal it or make it difficult to use. We need to be advocates, spokespeople for this industry. We need to go out and tell folks this is the right thing to do,” he said.
Vilsack urged the crowd to continue to educate the public about the potential of weaning the nation from foreign oil imports and highlighting the potential of renewable fuels. He pointed to areas of the economy, like the military, that were converting to home grown fuels. “Navy is starting to look at renewable fuels. I am optimistic about this. We need to be advocates for this industry. We don’t want to lose this amazing marketing opportunity.”
“Secretary Vilsack has left behind a lasting legacy of commitment to agriculture and has helped plant the seeds of future prosperity that will benefit America’s family farmers and ranchers for generations,” said Johnson.
In her address, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy promised the agency would soon come out with a final Waters of the Unites States (WOTUS) rule and committed to movement on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as well.
“I really wish we had done a better job of rolling out the clean water rule,” she said and “I’m really concerned that we weren’t crystal clear not only about what we intended to do but also what we weren’t intending to do,” she said.
McCarthy thanked National Farmers Union and its members for their helpful feedback during the process and thanked NFU President Roger Johnson for his handling of the situation “I want to thank you for not having a knee-jerk reaction,” she said and noted that EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers were working hard to finalize the act by this spring.
McCarthy told the crowd that the agency’s definition of tributaries in the initial draft was far too vague and that would be corrected. “We are considering appropriate ways to narrow that definition.”
On the subject of ditches, she said EPA needs to make the definitions clearer. “Most farm ditches were never covered before, and they won’t be in this new rule,” she promised.
McCarthy also promised movement on the RFS. “The RFS is a complicated program, and we weren’t able to accomplish what we needed to do last year,” she said. “Implementing the RFS as Congress intended has been challenging.”
NFU President Roger Johnson thanked the administrator for her hard work but urged her to get the RFS moving forward. “The RFS is a major economic engine for family farmers and although it’s complicated, it needs to get done,” he said.
McCarthy ended by noting that farmers and the agency are not at odds with each other on the goals of clean water. “As long as we remind ourselves that we are totally aligned in our goals we will get this job done and we will get this job done well,” she said.
The 2016 National Farmers Union Convention will be held March 5-8 at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Minneapolis, MN. For more information, go to www.nfu.org