Rob Larew, NFU Senior Vice President for Policy, provided the annual Washington Update at the 2019 KFU State Convention.
It’s no secret to most folks – National’s Farmers Union’s biggest issues right now are all related to the current state of the farm economy.
“Times are really tough out there. We need to be doing all we can, and quite frankly a lot of things currently coming out of D.C. in terms of trade wars, etc., are really making things much worse,” said Rob Larew, NFU Senior Vice President for Policy.
Larew provided his Washington, D.C. update to the KFU state convention in early December and starkly laid out the challenging times facing farmers.
“We have a market not functioning or working for farmers. You guys know this and live this everyday. The fact that we are selling commodities at the lowest possible price, and then government interfering with that market by putting tariffs in place. It’s not that there aren’t uses for (tariffs), but when you go into this with our biggest partner, regarding soybeans, and destroy it – and at the lowest price. This will give farmers reason to push policy makers to look at alternatives here.”
So…what does Larew recommend now?
“National Farmers Union is really focused on making sure we can get these markets restored, that we get a handle on supply. There’s just way too much commodity out there. We need to take a fundamental look at the current way that we support family farmers, making sure they can continue to be on the farm, and that they get a fair price for the commodities.”
A first step, says Larew, is for the Trump Administration to “stop doing what they’re doing right now with the trade war with China.”
“Certainly, the President, through his direction with the trade office and with USDA, is taking on the biggest bully in the world out there with China, and at the same time irritated all of our allies who could be working collectively with us to try to actually bring them into line. That’s a huge problem. So now, that we are in this kind of unilateral one-on-one battle, we keep getting promises of a deal. And promises of a restoration of markets. But we’re now hearing the latest out of the White House, is that’s not going to happen now, and that it will probably be at least another year before we’ll see any changes. That’s something some folks were predicting from the very start,” he added.
Another issue, related to the state of the farm economy, is farm stress. “Thankfully, we have a lot of neighbors who are reaching out to each other; checking in on folks,” shared Larew. He said that a program will be coming up to train people to more easily cope with farm stress.
“One thing that really irritates me when you talk about the farm economy and farm stress, is when folks sometimes say, ‘Oh, but this isn’t anything like the ‘80s.’ I would first argue it doesn’t have to be like the ‘80s for it to be really hard with serious problems out there. Secondly, we’re seeing debt levels at the same rates that we saw in the ‘80s. Many of the same things that we saw then are starting to come true. We need to be intervening right now and helping rural communities stay strong.”
So, what’s a concrete recommendation? Larew says, part of it is restoring a good training program to assist neighbors in helping their neighbors. He also noted the importance of changing policies to support family farmers: “Because right now, it’s all about selling our commodities at the absolute lowest price. What we need is a market that can restore a price that is fair and can cover farmers’ losses.” Currently, Larew noted, that year after year, farmers are expected to farm at a loss, “But you just can’t stay in business that way,” he emphasized.
Stress, noted Larew, is a huge issue in farming: “Rural communities particularly suffer a chronic deficiency of access to rural health care in general, but particularly mental health care. However, I do think we’re starting to lose some of the stigma associated with that, in talking about issues. Farmer suicide is at such a high rate.
When you think about depression, and farming at a loss, and all of the challenges of trying to keep your farm in your family – this can lead to pressures, and we need to find ways to address it,” said Larew.
On the topic of climate change…“We have to have healthy soils if we’re going to keep farming and be sustainable, and the National Farmers Union Board just approved a Climate Action Plan that lays out a map over the next year to be the leader in an agriculture-smart policy.”
Membership of the national farmers union; NFU is in great shape, Larew said. “There are new charter chapters in Kansas, with 84 new members, which is fantastic.
We also have new partnerships, and just signed agreements to beef up the relationship between FFA and Farmers Union, making students more involved in education activities, and I think this will continue to grow.”
KFU is a prime example of grassroots level policy, Larew concluded. “Here at the convention, we’re hearing what farmers actually want to see changed, and we’re developing policy at the local level,” said Larew. “So, this will ultimately feed into the National Farmers Union convention in March, which will continue to give us marching orders to effect change in a positive way for farmers.”