The following is a release from NFU and includes a summary of some of the important work completed during the 2012 convention last week. It was NFU’s 110th annual convention!
NFU concluded its 110th Anniversary Convention last week after four days of speakers, breakout sessions, tours, and policy discussion. More than 500 Farmers Union members from across the country attended the event in La Vista, Neb.
“Convention is the most important even of the year for Farmers Union, because it is where our members determine our policy for the coming year,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “Since we will be writing the farm bill under significant budgetary constraints this year, it is particularly important that we focus on our top priorities.”
Farmers Union delegates passed special orders of business relating to investment priorities in the 2012 Farm Bill, the Market-Driven Inventory System, Country-of-Origin Labeling, dairy, beginning farmer programs, the beef checkoff, and cuts to rural U.S. Postal Service offices. Members heard from numerous speakers, including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis.
“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. We need a healthy commitment to crop insurance.”
Delegates also unanimously re-elected President Roger Johnson and Vice President Claudia Svarstad. Johnson was first elected NFU president in March 2009. Svarstad was first elected vice president during NFU’s convention in 2008.
“I greatly appreciate the trust placed in me by Farmers Union delegates and am truly humbled by the opportunity to continue leading this fantastic organization, but our work has only just begun,” said Johnson. “It is long past time that stakeholders from across the agriculture industry and legislators from both sides of the aisle come together to write a farm bill that will ensure a bright future for agriculture and rural America. It will take all of us, working together, to ensure that rural America thrives Thank you to Farmers Union members for giving me the opportunity to represent them during such an important time.”
Convention attendees had the opportunity to attend breakout sessions on topics such as using charitable donations to create tax savings, beginning farmers and ranchers, dairy, the Market-Driven Inventory System (MDIS), farm safety, grassroots advocacy, Farmers Union’s Place in global agriculture, gaining access to credit, renewable energy and climate policy, and the roles of women in agriculture and philanthropy.
“The farm bill is a complex piece of legislation that affects so many portions of the agriculture industry,” said Johnson. “We had breakout sessions and speakers to discuss various components of the bill to help educate our members on the different aspects of the bill. This allowed them to make more informed choices as they discussed organizational policy.”
NFU unveiled Phase II of its study on MDIS at a press conference during the convention. The study, commissioned by NFU, found that over the next ten 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.
During the convention, NFU also presented two of its highest honors. Howard G. Buffett, Dr. Mary Hendrickson, and Odean Olson were presented with Meritorious Service Awards, while Gary Wertish of Minnesota Farmers Union was presented with the Silver Star Award.
Meritorious Service Awards honor those who have made particularly noteworthy contributions to agriculture, humanity and Farmers Union. The Silver Star Award is the highest award a member can achieve for membership recruitment in a given year. A first-time winner, Wertish excelled over the past year in bringing in new members to Farmers Union.
“Farmers Union is a special organization thanks to the passion and dedication of members like Gary,” said Johnson. “We are proud of his achievement.”
At a convention awards luncheon, NFU recognized outstanding members. Thirteen Farmers Union members were honored for their excellence in recruiting new Farmers Union members. Forty 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.
NFU also recognized WisconsinEye Public Affairs Network for its outstanding coverage of the Wisconsin tractorcade protests by awarding the organization the Milt Hakel Award for Excellence in Agriculture Journalism, which goes to reporters or news outlets that demonstrate exceptional reporting of agricultural issues.
“By airing gavel-to-gavel coverage of Wisconsin Legislative sessions, as well as coverage of important events such as the tractorcade, the WisconsinEye Network brings to light a number of important issues and helps keep the public more informed about what is going on in their state,” said Johnson. “The service they provide helps to educate the public, and an educated public is the cornerstone of democracy.”
NFU presented Howard G. Buffett with a check for $55,193 at the opening night of its convention. 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.
“As family farmers, ranchers, and rural community members, we are very well aware that many people, both in the United States and around the world, often go to bed hungry at night, and that’s a big concern for us,” said Johnson. “Through their network, Feeding America is able to turn $1 into $17 worth of food for hungry Americans. Together, Farmers Union, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and Feeding America were able to provide some of the 37 million hungry Americans with more than $1.7 million worth of food. Farmers Union members really stepped up to meet Howard Buffett’s challenge and showed they really care about the less fortunate among us.”
The convention also featured agricultural tours and the “Evening for Education” gala, an event to support the educational efforts of the NFU Foundation. More than 350 people attended the gala, which featured games, a steak dinner, a live auction, and much more. Numerous prizes were awarded.
“Farmers Union educational activities and summer camps touch thousands of rural youth each year, teaching them important lessons from food nutrition to grassroots activism,” said Johnson. “Thanks to the generosity of those participating in this event, we are able to provide leadership training and cooperative education programs for people of all ages.”