NFU Proclamation - 2021 Virtual Convention
The year was 1904. Just over one hundred members of Farmers Union assembled in Mineola, Texas, in our first ever national convention. Since then, over the last 117 years, we have gathered in 33 different states, from Palatka, Florida, to Spokane, Washington, from Springfield, Massachusetts to San Diego, California. History continues today.
The extraordinary events of the last year have erected barriers to our time-honored gathering in traditional convention. In spite of these challenges, hurdles such as today’s pandemic expose our strength and character as a truly grassroots organization. In this convention, we gather not in one physical location, but in our collective sense of place –our common farms and ranches; not travelling hundreds or thousands of miles in person, but sharing our thoughts, hopes, and ideas through heart, soul, and intellect using our time-tested, long-standing, and naturally occurring Internet: our grassroots heritage. This is Farmers Union –this is why we endure.
Charles Barrett, National Farmers Union president [1906-1928] once said, “We make better neighbors when we get together.” The circumstances of the past year knocked our original plan endways, but as an organization, community, and convention, we discovered a number of ways to go around these temporary barriers. Let it be documented that the National Farmers Union Convention of 2021 was a truly grassroots gathering, deeply rooted in each and every farm and ranch of the membership. Indeed, even without a physical gathering, National Farmers Union continues to provide opportunities for us to celebrate our shared “Sense of Place.”
2021 Special Orders of Business
For several years, family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities endured low crop prices, a global trade war, and extreme weather events. This past year, a global pandemic brought new challenges and compounded many of the difficulties farmers and rural communities were already facing. The crisis precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for lasting, positive change and increased equity in our nation’s farm, food, education, communication, and healthcare systems.
The pandemic resulted in severe supply chain disruptions, with farmers struggling to move excess crops and livestock, and consumers facing shortages and higher food prices. These disruptions have highlighted the extreme concentration in agricultural supply chains, where lax antitrust enforcement has allowed a small number of large corporations to dominate the markets farmers purchase from and sell to. It has also foregrounded the shortcomings of the processing sector with its small number of very large processing plants, the brittleness of “just-in-time” inventory and supply chain systems, and the lack of spot markets necessary for system resilience.
Rural communities have long lagged their urban counterparts in infrastructure, including access to healthcare and digital technology. Rural hospitals are chronically underfunded and understaffed, and more than 125 rural hospitals went out of business over the past decade. Ongoing impediments to mounting a swift and effective vaccination and public health information campaign point to the need to improve the entirety of our healthcare infrastructure. One-in-three rural Americans do not have a broadband connection at home. The pandemic underlined lack of access to high-speed broadband internet in rural areas, which is hampering pandemic recovery and weakening delivery of e-commerce, telemedicine, and distance learning opportunities for children and adults.
Furthermore, climate change is the single greatest long-term challenge facing family farmers, rural communities, and threatening global food security. Thus, while we focus on facing the present crisis, we must also look to the future to ensure farmers and ranchers have the tools they need to implement conservation practices and build soil health, reduce atmospheric carbon, and expand on-farm production of renewable energy and biofuels.
In addition to continuing to enact much-needed short-term COVID-19 relief, and ensuring its fair and equitable distribution, National Farmers Union calls upon Congress and the Administration to take the following actions as first steps toward rebuilding our rural economy:
- Reform farm safety net programs to protect farmers and ranchers from deep market losses, which have caused a reliance upon short-term ad hoc disaster payments;
- Increase enforcement of antitrust laws to spur competition throughout the agricultural supply chain;
- Increase the resiliency and transparency of livestock, grain, dairy, and other food markets by incentivizing local and regional processing, permitting interstate shipment of state-inspected meat in compliance with federal standards, setting minimum weekly cash/spot market cattle purchases by larger packers, and reinstating and fully implementing mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling;
- Support climate-smart agriculture by facilitating farmer participation in, and the development of cooperative-based solutions, provide resources and technical assistance for farmers to implement voluntary incentive-based conservation programs, ensure family farmers and ranchers have a seat at the table in the development of climate policies and programs, and increase the level of biofuels used in our nation’s fuel supply;
- Create a national pandemic response plan and improve the Strategic National Stockpile to better prepare our nation for future crises;
- Expand comprehensive healthcare for all residents, ensuring multiple providers and insurers offer a broad range of services that are affordable and accessible no matter their geographic location;
- Ensure there is adequate funding and administrative support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and child nutrition programs, strong support for emergency food providers such as food banks and nonprofit feeding organizations, and equity in the distribution of food and nutrition assistance;
- Continue to provide relief to small business, including farms, food businesses, and others, through programs administered by U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Small Business Administration, and other federal agencies as appropriate, to ensure these businesses can survive and navigate the continued disruptions caused by the pandemic;
- Increase and improve high-speed broadband Internet infrastructure and access in rural areas;
- Support the United States Postal Service and ensure prompt delivery and affordable rates in all parts of the country, including rural areas;
- Help rural schools adapt to current and prepare for future pandemic conditions;
- Encourage education and outreach through institutions of higher learning,
secondary schools, cooperative extension, and other organizations to prepare citizens for disasters and to strengthen food security. Funding should be increased for public agricultural research and extension, including support for land-grant colleges and universities;
- Remedy historical inequities in access to farm programs and other systemic barriers to succeeding in agriculture faced by socially disadvantaged groups, especially farmers of color;
- Ensure the right of essential workers to a safe working environment with access to personal protective equipment and sick leave, without the threat of employer retaliation;
- Enact immigration reform, including agricultural workforce reform, that includes a sensible path to legal status for undocumented workers, and that reforms the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program so that it serves the needs of workers and family farmers and ranchers;
- Prohibit the ability of foreign interests, including those acting through U.S.- registered entities (except families or individuals seeking U.S. citizenship), from acquiring U.S. agricultural lands, holding federal grazing allotments, commercial fishing privileges, food processing assets, feedlots or other means of food and fiber production; and
- Institute an hours-of-service waiver for truckers who are transporting essential supplies, including livestock, farm, food, and medical supplies.
While National Farmers Union (NFU) has long advocated increased scrutiny of consolidation in the livestock and dairy industry, the events of the continuing COVID-19 crisis brought the issue into even sharper relief.
NFU continues to call for establishment of provisions that ensure fairness, transparency, and protection for producers to restore and enhance competition in agricultural markets.
The COVID-19 crisis has elevated and combined multiple longstanding issues to a national crisis and has shown the fragility of our highly consolidated food processing system. In the last year, family farmers and ranchers have endured historic price spreads between live animal and meat prices as well as between farmer pay and the consumer price of dairy and other commodities. There have been severe bottlenecks in livestock and dairy supply chains, which are due in part to closures of processing and distribution facilities where mistreatment and endangerment of workers resulted in the spread of COVID-19.
NFU believes that these issues are ultimately rooted in concerning levels of consolidation by the concentrated market power of a few multi-national corporations.
- The reinstatement and adequate funding of the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration to promote competitive trading practices;
- Full enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act with special focus on the monopolistic control and manipulation of prices within the livestock industry;
- Increased federal share of funding for states participating in the Cooperative Interstate Shipment and Meat and Poultry Inspection programs to incentivize participation;
- Increased focus on aiding in expansion of smaller local and regional processors, including but not limited to: use of federal cost-share programs to assist local and regional meat processing facilities, particularly cooperative enterprises, to attain federal inspection or increase capacity; additional resources to supply training to increase numbers of skilled meat cutters; and increased numbers of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors;
- Interstate shipment of state-inspected meat in compliance with federal standards; 1
- Minimum weekly cash/spot market cattle purchases by larger packers;
- Federal legislation that would mandate a minimum of 50 percent of cattle procurement by large packers or processors to come via the spot market, and that delivery of said procurement shall be within 14 days of the agreement;
- Improved transparency in the reporting of livestock prices and markets by USDA and marketing channels;
- Reauthorization and full implementation of mandatory Country-of-Origin Labelling by Congress and the USDA;
- The USDA, in cooperation with the Department of Justice, breaking up monopolies in the beef, pork, poultry, sheep, and dairy sectors;
- The use of trade policy to limit the importation of animal products;
- Improved workplace safety standards to protect the people we depend upon to process our agricultural products;
- A review and possible reform of livestock and dairy checkoff programs at federal and state level;
- A mandatory dairy program for managed growth based on market demand and price stability, which would increase farmer profitability by elevating milk prices, preventing overproduction, and reducing milk price volatility;
- Congress developing a comprehensive program to allow dairy producers across the nation to receive a profitable return on their investment, including an adjustable base make allowance that reflects the difference between milk prices and the producer’s cost of production. A Federal Milk Marketing Order system that includes all areas within the continental United States should emphasize maximum return to producers;
- Legislation to correct the Class I pricing formula so that it more accurately reflects the retail value of Class I dairy products;
- Strengthened risk management and livestock indemnity programs to help farmers and ranchers affected by extreme weather; and
- The finalization of the Origin of Livestock Rule to ensure a level playing field for U.S. organic dairy farmers regarding how cows are transitioned to certified organic production.
The extreme weather events of 2020 show once again that climate change jeopardizes the livelihoods of U.S. family farmers, ranchers, and rural residents, as well as our nation’s food, fuel, and fiber supply. The challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have taken priority throughout much of 2020 and into 2021, a disruption that provides an opportunity to upgrade systems and infrastructure to address climate change. The devastating effects of climate change have not relented, as evidenced by the fact that in 2020 there were more “billion-dollar disasters” in the United States than any other year on record. Urgent action is needed to address this crisis.
National Farmers Union (NFU) calls upon the Administration and Congress to take immediate and concrete steps aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the resilience of the land and its people, facilitating ecosystems services market development, and holistically addressing climate change.
America’s family farms and ranches are uniquely positioned to be an integral part of our nation’s solution for climate change. Healthy soils and diverse vegetation can provide a range of ecosystems services, including but not limited to the removal of existing greenhouse gases from the Earth’s atmosphere, agricultural emissions reductions, and mitigation of the effects of extreme weather. However, there are also unique challenges for agriculture due to complications stemming from issues of land ownership, years of stagnant farm income, consolidation across the sector, and changing scientific and agronomic advice.
Farmers and ranchers must be leaders in addressing climate change. Farmers and ranchers must drive policies and programs that are developed to ensure all these opportunities and challenges are appropriately addressed.
The work of providing healthier land and more functional watersheds, supplying ample healthy food for people, and limiting risks from severe weather events to the entire human population is best done by family farmers as they are more present on the land and in their local communities. This is work that must be regarded and compensated like other services and goods. Family farmers and ranchers must be empowered to tackle the challenges and opportunities posed by climate change.
NFU supports policies, programs, and efforts throughout the agricultural value chain that:
- Support research, education, outreach, cost share, risk management, and other incentives to help family farmers and ranchers install and manage practices and infrastructure that mitigate and adapt to climate change, build soil health and increase watershed function, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and sequester carbon at the farm level and throughout food supply chains;
- Establish the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as the federal lead on all issues pertaining to agriculture and climate change. Further, USDA’s longstanding protections for producer data and privacy must be applied to climate efforts and extend to marketplace contracts;
- Encourage USDA and the private sector to explore income opportunities for family farmers and ranchers—including those categorized as “early adopters” of soil health and regenerative agriculture practices— from the ecosystems services generated on their land through improved management practices. Potential opportunities should include voluntary marketplace initiatives and new and existing federal agriculture and environmental programs such as a carbon bank, expanded Conservation Stewardship Program, or other ecosystems services payments;
- Facilitate the development of a USDA-led ecosystems services credit practice-based verification system to support the ability of farmers, ranchers, and other landowners to affordably participate in public or private market opportunities and establish a base standard for credit verification;
- Engage USDA’s Climate Hub network and other agency outreach efforts to highlight the positive work across agriculture that is being done to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change through Farm Bill conservation programs and other initiatives;
- Build relationships between USDA and other federal agencies to systematically design, coordinate, and enhance the effectiveness of programs that assist agriculture and our nation’s communities to better adapt to and mitigate the causes of climate change. Such initiatives should include potential coordination of USDA conservation and rural development programs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) non- point source pollution and water and wastewater programs, and other federal initiatives to maximize greenhouse gas reductions, reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, increase fuel and energy efficiency, and improve wildlife habitat. Any verification or regulatory provisions developed that are related to climate change and farms and ranches must be administered by USDA, not EPA;
- Ensure the needs of farmers, ranchers, and our nation’s communities are addressed by state and federal efforts to strengthen and expand our nation’s infrastructure— including electrical and telecommunications networks; water, wastewater, and flood control systems; and transportation networks—to better withstand the effects of climate change;
- Develop and implement a comprehensive national energy and fuel strategy that reduces carbon emissions using renewable energy, carbon capture, ethanol and biofuels, and other technologies while balancing rural energy needs and jobs;
- Focus tax and other economic incentives on rural areas that historically have relied upon fossil fuel industries to promote job creation and growth in the new “green economy” and limit job loss and unemployment. Tax credits or grant programs should also be implemented to help provide relocation assistance or career path retraining for employees who transition from a fossil fuels related industry to a renewable or low-carbon industry; and
- Develop resilient local and regional food systems that build connections between local farmers and citizens and communities.