Policy of the National Farmers Union

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2024 Special Orders of Business

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Fair, open, and competitive markets are central to the health and wellbeing of the American economy and our democracy. For decades, the markets that farmers buy from and sell to, and the supply chains and infrastructure they rely on, have become increasingly consolidated and uncompetitive. There are high levels of corporate concentration and evidence of anticompetitive practices in sectors including meatpacking, seeds, crop protection, fertilizer, rail transportation, food retail, food distribution, farm equipment manufacturing and repair, and sales of commodities. 

Corporate monopolies limit farmers’ and ranchers’ choices, pay them less, and charge them more. Markets dominated by monopolies lack resilience and are susceptible to disruptions, harming family farmers, ranchers, farmworkers, consumers, and our communities. Corporate monopolies spanning many sectors of our nation’s economy have decimated small family businesses, especially in rural areas. 

Additionally, the farmer’s share of every dollar consumers spend on food has fallen from 50 cents in 1952 to less than 14 cents today. All the while, consumers are facing inflated prices for food at the grocery store. 

National Farmers Union (NFU) launched the Fairness for Farmers campaign to respond to these challenges. The campaign is a nationwide effort to give voice to farmers, ranchers, consumers, and communities being harmed by economic concentration and corporate monopolies. Fairness for Farmers calls for the revival of strong antitrust and competition law enforcement, the breakup of corporate monopolies, and the creation of new and diverse market opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and consumers. 

To address the challenges outlined above, and to advance the efforts of NFU’s Fairness for Farmers campaign, we support: 

  • Ensuring the next farm bill includes provisions that increase competition and fairness in agricultural markets; 
  • Legislation that would strengthen antitrust and competition laws, reverse the trend of corporate consolidation, and protect family farmers and ranchers from anticompetitive practices; 
  • Legislation to bring greater transparency and price discovery to cattle markets; 
  • Truthful and transparent labeling of agricultural products, including reauthorization and full implementation of mandatory country-of-origin (COOL) labeling, and support for “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claims on meat, poultry, and egg products, only when they are derived from animals born, raised, processed, and slaughtered in the United States;
  • Robust and more urgent enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act (P&S Act); 
  • The establishment of an “Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters” at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to strengthen P&S Act enforcement and support for the newly established Chief Competition Officer at USDA; 
  • Interagency coordination between the Department of Justice (DOJ), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and USDA to ensure our nation’s federal antitrust and pro-competition laws are maximally enforced; 
  • Blocking harmful mergers throughout the food value chain, including the Kroger/Albertsons grocery merger; 
  • Ensuring farmers have the right to repair their equipment, because equipment manufacturer’s repair restrictions violate antitrust law, increase costs and repair delays, and reduces repair choice; 
  • Spurring the development and expansion of diverse, local, and/or regional market opportunities throughout farm and food supply chains, including but not limited to production, processing, distribution, retail, and storage; and 
  • Increasing the cost efficiency and reliability of freight rail service for farmers by addressing the lack of competition among freight rail companies through increased antitrust scrutiny and enforcement, greater Surface Transportation Board oversight, establishing reciprocal switching, and requiring railroads to cover losses due to delayed delivery of rail cars.

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The 2018 Farm Bill expired on September 30, 2023, and Congress reached an agreement to extend the current farm bill for one year. While an extension was necessary to ensure the continuation of essential farm policies and programs for the 2024 crop year, full reauthorization with important reforms to current farm and food policy is required to meet the needs of family farmers, ranchers, consumers, and our communities. 

The farm economy is cyclical, and commodity price and input cost volatility are among the chief reasons that family farmers and ranchers are forced out of business. Farm bills should be written with tough times in mind so that programs serve as a safety net. Farm bills should also principally direct benefits toward family farmers and ranchers. 

Farm bills are best when they are forward-looking. Lawmakers must ensure the next farm bill anticipates future needs, including by strengthening farm bill conservation and renewable energy programs, which help farmers implement practices that fight climate change, build soil health, and increase resilience. 

The farm bill is also a food bill. The nutrition title is key to reducing hunger and poverty, and improving food and nutrition security. 

The following policies and provisions should be included in the 2024 Farm Bill. 

  • Advance NFU’s Fairness for Farmers campaign priorities by:
    • Including a dedicated competition title; 
    • Bolstering cattle market price discovery and transparency; 
    • Updating the Packers & Stockyards Act and creating the “Office of the Special Investigator” for competition at USDA to protect livestock producers from anticompetitive practices; 
    • Reinstating mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL); 
    • Reforming checkoff programs to be producer controlled and regularly reviewed; and 
    • Spurring the development and expansion of diverse, local, and/or regional markets throughout all aspects of farm and food supply chains.
  • Maintain and improve the farm safety net by:
    • Increasing loan rates and other price-based triggers to reflect higher commodity prices and input costs; 
    • Establishing a dual enrollment option that allows farmers to receive the higher of the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) calculated payment; 
    • Allowing for a voluntary base acres and yield update; 
    • Making risk management products more accessible for specialty crop producers and diverse cropping systems; 
    • Maintaining livestock risk protection (LRP) and authorizing a new program, similar to LRP, that allows for market risk protection for crops; and 
    • Increasing oversight of the delivery of the federal crop insurance program to ensure that family farmers and ranchers are the primary program beneficiaries.
  • Strengthen conservation programs and expand renewable energy opportunities by:
    • Including strong funding that meets demand for voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs; 
    • Providing crop insurance discounts to farmers for planting cover crops or for using other practices that increase resiliency or decrease risk; 
    • Building on programs that support biofuels infrastructure development; 
    • Supporting and improving the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP); and 
    • Maintaining a strong Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). 
  • Expand and enhance permanent disaster assistance programs by:
    • Reducing implementation delays and equitably and appropriately targeting support to farmers and ranchers who have suffered losses; and 
    • Establishing a permanent disaster assistance program that supplements crop insurance indemnities when widespread disasters occur.
  • Strengthen the dairy safety net by: 
    • Supporting dairy growth management principles to stem the loss of family dairy farms; and 
    • Strengthening the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program, which, with improvements, can serve as a useful risk management tool. 

Other important policies, programs, and reforms include: 

  • Providing all necessary funding to sustain and improve programs; 
  • Rectifying county-level USDA staffing shortages, which impede program implementation, by increasing funding, hiring, training, and pay for staff; 
  • Maintaining a strong nutrition title which should include robust funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), increase opportunities for local and regional procurement, and that supports the food and nutrition security of our communities; 
  • Supporting programs that promote and expand farmers markets, farm-to-school, and other initiatives that strengthen local, regional, and diverse market opportunities; 
  • Addressing farm stress and mental health in our communities, including by expanding and funding the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN); 
  • Addressing barriers faced by urban, peri-urban, and historically underserved farmers and ranchers in accessing scale-appropriate programs, credit, and other resources; 
  • Ensuring veteran farmer or rancher status has no expiration date for applications to USDA programs; 
  • Strengthening the farm bill research title, especially programs that help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change; and 
  • Streamlining farm program applications and delivery processes whenever possible. 

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A strong farm safety net and robust risk management tools are critical to protecting family farmers and ranchers from market and weather volatility. Over the last several years, the existing farm safety net has proven inadequate in the face of market disruptions and natural disasters. We appreciate Congress’s repeated efforts to provide emergency relief to offset those losses. However, ad hoc programs are not a sustainable solution. 

Farm safety net programs and crop insurance help farmers and ranchers manage two different types of risk. Counter-cyclical programs help farmers stay afloat during low price cycles. Crop insurance mitigates the risk of yield losses caused by adverse weather and natural disasters. It is critical that the next farm bill strengthens both farm safety net programs and crop insurance. 

National Farmers Union (NFU) supports increasing price-based triggers for Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC), and marketing assistance loans to reflect higher input costs. We also support an ARC/PLC dual enrollment option that would ensure all farmers have access to equitable relief in the face of market or weather volatility. 

NFU supports efforts to improve the affordability of higher levels of crop insurance coverage and supplemental coverage with multiple options to reflect the needs of different regions and operations. Crop insurance improvements will mitigate the need for ad hoc disaster programs and provide farmers with more consistent, equitable and predictable relief. 

NFU also supports efforts to improve the availability and affordability of crop insurance for specialty crop growers, livestock producers, diversified and small-scale agricultural operations, and producers in large counties. We support improvements to Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) with a streamlined on-ramp process for producers who utilize the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP). We urge continued efforts to improve disaster programs and insurance options for livestock producers. We also urge Congress to explore sub-county-level coverage for producers in large or geographically diverse counties. We believe commission rates for insurance products should adequately reflect the cost and risk of marketing those products to ensure equitable access to risk management for all producers. 

Finally, NFU urges Congress to pass a farm bill that is fiscally responsible and balances conservation, safety net and crop insurance needs. We believe improvements to farm bill programs should be targeted to family farms and ranches. We urge Congress to consider proposals that would mitigate or offset the cost of these improvements through subsidy limits or eligibility restrictions. 

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Robust USDA conservation programs are essential for family farmers and ranchers as they work to mitigate the harmful effects of human-caused climate disruption, operate viable businesses, and participate in a climate-smart future through voluntary, incentive-based measures. 

In recent years, family farmers and ranchers have faced increasingly erratic weather and dramatic changes to the water cycle including drought, floods, decreased surface flows, declining aquifers, and water contamination. While unique challenges vary across and within regions, those most affected are often farmers and ranchers. Drought and flood risks are as much symptoms of a loss of soil fertility as they are a product of weather variations. While farmers and ranchers are most likely to be negatively impacted by these challenges, they are also the group with the most power to positively affect water cycles and improve soil health for the benefit of their own operations, the environment, and society. 

It is critical that Congress protect funding for conservation, agricultural water, and renewable energy programs allocated in the Inflation Reduction Act and produce a farm bill that compliments these investments while reforming current programs to meet the needs of family farmers and ranchers. 

To these ends, National Farmers Union supports:

  • Incentivizing the implementation of healthy soil principles that build on-farm resilience and reduce emissions by sequestering carbon and providing essential ecosystem services. 
  • Protecting farmer and rancher data as they adopt climate-smart practices. 
  • Prioritizing funding for education programs and technical assistance that support agricultural producers to adapt to a changing climate. 
  • Providing crop insurance discounts to farmers who utilize conservation practices that increase resiliency or decrease risk. 
  • Building on programs that support biofuels infrastructure development. 
  • Taking advantage of clean energy opportunities while building additional enterprises and reducing costs for producers by maintaining the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). 
  • Maintaining a strong Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) while meeting desired regional outcomes. 
  • Improving and expanding the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). 
  • Ensuring that the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) receive adequate funding to meet demand. 
  • Establishing a tiered EQIP funding mechanism specifically designed for small-scale producers. 
  • Increasing efficiencies in irrigation systems and expanding the availability and cost share percentage of EQIP grants for irrigation efficiency improvements. 
  • Broadening conservation programming to serve range and pasture-based production including the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) and implementing the strategies identified in the USDA’s Western Water and Working Lands Framework for Conservation Action. 
  • Improving voluntary based incentives for the System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP) by streamlining the application process with clear standards for eligibility and compensation. 
  • Building effective regionally based solutions including Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) and USDA Regional Climate Hubs. 
  • Growing incentive programs to permanently protect agricultural groundwater while providing pathways for owners to receive compensation to reduce pumping through a voluntary agreement. 
  • Building clear accounting systems for surface and groundwater use as well as systems for measuring evapotranspiration and transit loss. 
  • Building markets for alternative and less water-intensive crops. 
  • Creating flexibility within the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) to allow for future amendments that support family-scale agriculture. 
  • Improving the functionality of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

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Throughout 2023, milk prices paid to dairy farmers only covered about 50 percent of production costs to the farmer, leading to record Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) payments. The dairy economy is now in severe crisis, with a record loss of dairy farms. Due to low dairy farm margins, the number of US dairy farms has decreased by more than 84 percent, or more than 131,000 farms, since 1992. As a result of widespread market concentration and consolidation, dairy farmers have little, if any, choice about where to ship their milk, further depressing milk prices paid. 

To reduce dairy farm closures and improve the outlook for US dairy farmers, we call on Congress to: 

  • Establish a farmer-led incentive-based milk production growth plan to match milk supply with profitable market demand; 
  • Establish a price discovery formula at the producer level through a growth management program that incentivizes matching production with market demand; 
  • Re-evaluate the Federal Milk Marketing Order system in the United States and address the fear producers have to participate in the process, and the impact outside dollars and lawyers have in the current order system; 
  • Reform all Class formulas to reflect the value and volume of all dairy products sold in the market today as current milk pricing formulas fail to reflect the actual market value of dairy products, particularly higher moisture, and higher value cheese products; 
  • Establish a national make allowance that is adjustable to reflect the difference between milk prices and the producer’s cost of production. This allowance should be generated from the market, not deducted from the established price through end-product pricing; 
  • Return to the “higher of” Class III or IV in the Class I pricing formula and update the Class I and Class II differentials; 
  • Pass legislation to restore the option of whole milk in school nutrition programs; and 
  • Require mandatory participation of processors in an audited National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) survey and in an audited cold storage report and use this data to report current price and cold storage capacity in real-time with producers. 

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Support for the cooperative business model is a bedrock principle of NFU. The Farmers Union triangle represents our core principles, one of which is cooperation. This includes the importance of working together to achieve common goals, along with our commitment to cooperative education and cooperative business development. 

Farmers Union was founded in 1902 by farmers organizing – in large part – to form cooperative warehouses to store cotton until market prices improved and to build strength in the face of corporate monopolies. Additionally, in the early years of our organization, Farmers Union helped develop and pass laws, such as the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922, that allowed for the growth and proliferation of farmer-owned cooperatives. 

We reaffirm our commitment to cooperative development and education. We also reaffirm our belief in the Rochdale Principles of cooperation, which were designed to ensure democratic control of cooperative businesses by members and that the members receive the primary benefits of their cooperative enterprise. These seven principles include voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, members’ economic participation, autonomy and independence, education, training, and information, cooperation among cooperatives, and concern for community. 

In November 2023, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2025 the second International Year of Cooperatives. NFU was a leader in the promotion of the first international year of Cooperatives in 2012, and we will again demonstrate our leadership in 2025 by promoting the cooperative model and educating our communities and policy makers about the principles, benefits, and impact of cooperatives.

When cooperatives are successful and remain committed to the cooperative principles, their members, their communities, and our country benefit. The continued success of the cooperative movement is essential to the mission of every Farmers Union state division, the future of NFU, and our country.