May 2023

The cherry blossoms have bloomed, and the paddleboats are out on the Tidal Basin, as spring is in full swing in Washington, DC. The season’s usual batch of visitors have started to arrive in droves – tourists, middle and high school students on their Washington field trips, and most importantly, quite a few Farmers Union members.

NFU welcomed some enthusiastic members to Washington to learn about advocacy, as well as leaders and staff from several state Farmers Union organizations for spring fly-ins. The timing for these visits has been ideal, as Congress returned from spring recess with a busy calendar while the farm bill clock continues to tick.

Across the country, Colorado is leading the way on a major Fairness for Farmers priority, which will have big implications across the country and in Washington.

Photo by National Farmers Union.

On April 17-18, NFU hosted twelve Farmers Union members from across the country for our 2023 Spring Advocacy Training workshop. For many of the participants, this event served as their first glimpse into NFU’s extensive advocacy work in Washington, DC.

Throughout the training, members had the opportunity to connect with one another and to discuss their roles within Farmers Union, their farming operations, and how they can use their experience to advocate for policies to better serve their communities. The two-day event featured workshops on public speaking, working with the media, serving on boards of directors, and becoming influential advocates for Farmers Union’s priorities.

Participants also heard from NFU President Rob Larew and the Government Relations team to discuss tips and tricks for lobbying and the most effective ways to engage in advocacy. Following a series of breakout group sessions, participants made their way to Capitol Hill for meetings with congressional offices to advocate for NFU’s 2023 Farm Bill priorities and Fairness for Farmers.

NFU’s 2023 Farm Bill priorities feature core Fairness for Farmers legislative initiatives, including the “Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act,” the “Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act,” the “American Beef Labeling Act,” and protecting USDA’s ongoing rulemaking to strengthen enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act. Members also advocated for expanding access to farm programs, through crop insurance and establishing permanent disaster assistance; providing farmers with the resources they need to address climate change through conservation initiatives; supporting the growth and development of biofuels; maintaining a strong nutrition title; better serving beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers; and expanding and funding the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN).

The event was a success as members who participated in the training left Washington with a better understanding of the legislative process and equipped with new skills and confidence to engage with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels.

Image from CSPAN broadcast.

On May 2, NFU President Rob Larew testified at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade, titled, “Commodity Programs, Credit, and Crop Insurance: Producer Perspectives on the Farm Safety Net.” As Congress gears up for the 2023 Farm Bill process, President Larew testified on a panel alongside Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), and witnesses from ten commodity organizations also offered comments during the hearing.

NFU provided written and verbal testimony expressing the importance of preserving and strengthening the farm safety, including expanding access to crop insurance, increasing price-based triggers in commodity programs to reflect higher prices and input costs, expedited farm program payments, and enacting a permanent disaster program.

President Larew discussed the opportunity in the upcoming farm bill to promote and incentivize the diversification of farming and ranching, expand new market opportunities in food and energy, provide producers with the tools needed to combat climate change, and invest in local infrastructure.

President Larew also urged Congress to take concrete steps to ensure greater competition throughout the U.S. food system and supply chains, through stronger enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, cattle market reform and country-of-origin labeling, and directing research into the impacts of consolidation on farmers, ranchers, and consumers. The testimony explicitly urged Congress to include a competition title in the 2023 Farm Bill.

Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.

Farmers Union has secured a major policy victory in Colorado. On April 25, Governor Jared Polis signed into law the “Consumer Right to Repair Agriculture Equipment Act,” marking a historic victory for the Right to Repair movement. With this enactment, Colorado is the first state in the nation to pass a Right to Repair law for agriculture equipment. Rocky Mountain Farmers Union was integral to the development and passage of this historic legislation.

Taking effect on January 1, 2024, this law requires manufacturers to provide parts, embedded software, firmware, tools, and documentation, such as diagnostic, maintenance, or repair manuals, diagrams, or similar information, to independent repair providers and owners of the manufacturer’s agricultural equipment. The law includes agricultural equipment in Colorado’s existing consumer right-to-repair statutes, which treat violations by manufacturers as deceptive trade practices. Colorado has existing enforcement mechanisms on the books, including both criminal and civil penalties.

Success at the state level should help advance the issue nationally, and the Colorado law could serve as a blueprint for other states and federal lawmakers. NFU is leading the national-level push on agricultural Right to Repair legislation, with help from a variety of partner organizations and advocates. NFU has also filed petitions with the Federal Trade Commission and Environmental Protection Agency in support of Right to Repair.

Major farm equipment manufacturers have long refused to make the software tools necessary to repair modern tractors, combines, and other farm equipment fully available to farmers and independent mechanics. This leaves farmers no choice but to take their broken equipment to licensed dealerships, which leads to service delays and inflated repair costs.

Furthermore, the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), a close partner of NFU’s on Right to Repair, released a report in April, partially based on a survey conducted by NFU. PIRG estimates the equipment downtime and higher repair costs caused by repair restrictions are costing U.S. farmers and ranchers more than $4 billion annually.

The victory in Colorado marks the beginning of ensuring farmers have fair and affordable repair access. NFU will continue to fight alongside partners and advocates to secure the Right to Repair for farmers and ranchers across the country.

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