Policy of the National Farmers Union

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2020 Special Orders of Business

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National Farmers Union’s mission statement states that the organization seeks to advocate for “family farmers, ranchers, fishers, and their communities through education, cooperation, and legislation.” The cooperation side of the triangle represents members working together to achieve common goals and Farmers Union’s commitment to cooperative education and cooperative business development. Farmers Union and the cooperative movement go hand in hand as people come together for a common purpose of mutual benefits.

Support of and the continued success of cooperatives is essential to the mission of every Farmers Union chapter. When cooperatives are successful, not only do the members benefit, but rural America does as well. Cooperatives create employment opportunities and keep economic benefits in the community and surrounding area. It is essential that Farmers Union continues to foster the relationships that have been built and strengthens and develops them for the future of our organization.

NFU policy references cooperative support throughout. There are sections that direct the organization to vigorously defend the Capper-Volstead Act; support cooperatives as a value- added tool for farmers; guard against monopolization of cooperatives; support the Rochdale principles; support and provide education of cooperative issues; support Farmers Union affiliated and non-affiliated cooperatives to build rural communities, and support federal legislation that supports cooperatives that support rural infrastructure and renewable energy.

Cooperatives remain an excellent tool not only for family farms and family ranches but also to maintain robust rural economies.

NFU and its members must continue and expand efforts to help educate, develop, research, and support additional cooperatives for the benefit of agriculture and rural communities. Education on the importance of member engagement and involvement in cooperative management and oversight should be emphasized. Furthermore, NFU should consider how a cooperative model can be applied to new and non-traditional businesses and services that further promote member- owned and administered economic systems.

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Family farmers and ranchers endured a historically challenging year in 2019 and will feel the impact for years to come. Extreme weather, trade conflicts, inadequate farm policy, and the declining agricultural economy have compounded and intensified the financial and emotional stress that our nation’s family farmers and ranchers continue to face.Flooding, excessive moisture, and unseasonably cool early season temperatures prevented farmers from planting a record 20 million acres of cropland in 2019. In addition, drought continued to impact other parts of the country. Late season rains and early snow presented harvest challenges that have not yet been resolved.

Economic indicators continue to trend downward as evidenced by the 24 percent increase in farm bankruptcies since 2018. Ongoing trade disputes also jeopardize previously stable export markets. Meanwhile, dairy farms continue to be particularly hard hit, with an estimated 10 percent of dairies going out of business in Wisconsin alone. Late season moisture issues caused dramatic crop quality losses, which have resulted in significant price discounts at the point of sale. Additionally, lack of enforcement of existing anti-trust laws and a lack of competition in the crop input and meat processing sectors has further reduced opportunities for farmers and ranchers to be profitable.

Ad hoc disaster programs (including WHIP+ and prevent plant top-up payments) and administrative actions—such as the Market Facilitation Program (MFP)—helped to ease the burden but are not a stable or reliable safety net for producers. While MFP has been helpful for many farmers, significant questions remain, including inequities between county payment rates and the development of the formula utilized by USDA to determine those rates.

While the 2018 Farm Bill made modest adjustments to Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC), these programs when combined with federal crop insurance are still unable to meet the needs of our nation’s producers when they experience multiple disasters, as in 2019. In addition, improvements to dairy programs in the 2018 Farm Bill came too late to save many family dairy farms.

To address these issues, we call for reforms including:

  • Adding quality adjustment factors as an option to crop insurance policies;
  • Developing and adequately funding permanent disaster programs, rather than relying upon ad-hoc initiatives;
  • Allowing lenders, including FSA, to be more flexible in addressing cash flow deficits for 2020 operating loan applications;
  • Following a more transparent process for announcing and implementing one-time trade assistance and disaster programs;
  • Developing a free, fair, and reliable trading system that allows access for U.S. agricultural goods and provides a fair and equitable marketplace for agricultural producers;
  • Additional antitrust enforcement that addresses the consolidation in agriculture including, but not limited to, mandatory price reporting for livestock;
  • Fully fund and staff all USDA agencies, service centers, and programs; and
  • While farmers are eternal optimists, after consecutive down years, it is time we learn from past policy shortcomings. We call on Congress and the administration to address the needs of family farmers and ranchers across our county through long-term policy certainty. Farmers are optimistic, but hope is not enough.

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Family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities are facing substantial challenges. Low prices, volatile trade policies, weather pressure, and political gridlock have all combined to create a witch’s brew that is poisoning rural America. It is imperative that candidates for political office at all levels of government—local, county, state, and federal—understand the crisis facing rural America and respond with positive policy proposals to strengthen agriculture, protect family farms and ranches, and support our rural communities. Farmers Union would ask all candidates for office in 2020 to consider and address the following issues:

  • Sound social and economic policies that create opportunities for rural communities to grow and thrive into the future to avoid cultural and economic stagnation;
  • Extreme weather events impacting agriculture nationwide, and what policies and programs can be created and/or utilized to help family farmers and ranchers address these challenges;
  • Significant, long-term solutions to strengthen the farm safety net that builds upon the 2018 Farm Bill;
  • A free, fair, and reliable trading system that allows access for U.S. agricultural goods and provides a fair and equitable marketplace for agricultural producers worldwide;
  • The stabilization of the current agricultural workforce and the future flow of agricultural workers through a flexible, efficient, and compassionate agricultural worker visa program that is easily accessible to family farms;
  • Insufficient antitrust enforcement that has resulted in an unprecedented rate of consolidation in agriculture;
  • The role of agriculture in addressing climate change through both adapting to and mitigating the root causes of climate change through existing USDA programs and other initiatives and new proposals to solve this global crisis; and
  • Access to and the affordability of rural healthcare, addiction prevention and treatment, and mental health services.

We call upon all Farmers Union members to engage and educate candidates on these and other issues.

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National Farmers Union supports the use of the terms beef, pork, poultry, lamb, and seafood in a food label to be used exclusively for meat harvest from live animals, in a traditional manner. NFU supports the current use of USDA inspections stamps on meat products. If a USDA stamp is to be used on cell culture, NFU asks USDA to create a stamp that is visibly different from that of traditional meat. Neither Federal nor State meat inspections stamps shall appear on cell cultured or plant-based protein products. We believe these products should be inspected for food safety but do not qualify to be in the same category of food as meat. All alternative proteins, including soy based, vegetable based, synthetic, and cell cultured should be prevented from using the term“meat” on their product. Alternative proteins should not be considered or included in any traditional meat international trade negotiations; they should be considered an entirely separate category of food.

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The extreme weather events of 2019 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.

With increasing frequency, family farmers and ranchers are being significantly impacted by the changing climate and the increasingly severe and frequent natural disasters that this phenomenon exacerbates. At the same time, family farms are uniquely positioned to mitigate climate change as healthy soils and vegetation remove existing greenhouse gases from the earth’satmosphere and reduce overall emissions. Agricultural producers must have a seat at the table as new political frameworks to address climate change are being developed.

In order to empower family farmers to lessen the negative impacts of climate change, and as a leader in promoting and highlighting the benefits of ecosystems services provided by agriculture, NFU supports policies, collaborations with consumers, and efforts throughout the agricultural value chain that:

  • Support research, cost-share and other incentives to help family farmers install and manage practices and infrastructure that mitigate climate change and sequester carbon;
  • Encourage USDA Climate Hubs to coordinate climate information, agronomic and risk management support, and programs that enhance options to allow family farmers to effectively utilize opportunities to enhance profits while mitigating climate change and highlight the positive impact all agricultural producers and all sectors of the agriculture industry including livestock producers are already providing to both adapt to climate change and mitigate climate change’s root causes through farm bill conservation programs and other initiatives;
  • Encourage energy efficiency, renewable energy production, and further development of the bioeconomy on family farms and in rural communities;
  • Expand production and use of biofuels in the transportation system;
  • Encourage cooperation and collaboration among family farmers to build and expand market infrastructure that will allow consumers to choose agricultural products that create climate benefits;
  • Provide new opportunities for family farmers to articulate their climate mitigation efforts to consumers through food processors and retailers;
  • Protect family farmland from carbon intensive suburban sprawl development;
  • Protect competition in the markets that family farmers buy from and sell into, allowing for more opportunities to make decisions that benefit soil and the landscape rather than farming within the narrow prescriptive demands of excessively consolidated markets;
  • Encourage USDA and other federal agencies to acknowledge existing science on climate change and prioritize research on this issue; and
  • Encourage USDA and other federal agencies to explore connections between existing programs that provide agriculture and rural communities opportunities to both adapt to and mitigate the root causes of climate change and coordinate efforts to enhance the effectiveness of these programs.
  • Encourage USDA and private industry to explore opportunities for family farmers and ranchers to realize financial benefit from the ecosystems services generated through improved management practices including voluntary marketplace initiatives and voluntary federal support programs.
  • Encourage USDA, the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other state and federal agencies to redouble their efforts to install, maintain, and strengthen new and existing infrastructure and new and existing initiatives to help rural America adapt to our changing climate and the extreme weather events it exacerbates.

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U.S dairy farms are an important segment of our nation’s economy. As one of the world’s largest dairy-producing nations, the industry provides roughly $140 billion in economic output, $29 billion in household earnings, and more than 900,000 jobs.

Despite dairy’s economic contribution to our nation, federal programs are failing producers who face difficult economic conditions. Between 2014 and 2018, roughly 7,500 U.S dairy farms went out of business as low milk prices failed to cover the average cost of production. Meanwhile, total cow numbers increased slightly and milk production remained relatively stable. The overproduction of milk and the inability for the market to stabilize following an economic downturn accelerated the loss of dairy farms throughout the U.S.

National Farmers Union recognizes efforts made by Congress to improve federal dairy programs, but the Dairy Margin Coverage program does not address the fundamental problem of oversupply. Federal dairy policy must provide both a safety net for family dairy farms in all regions and of all herd sizes, and a mechanism to manage milk supply to meet profitable demand.

A 2019 economic analysis of programs to improve dairy farm profitability showed that a system of managed growth in dairy production would have had a positive impact on the dairy economy. The results show increased milk prices, reduced price volatility, fewer dairy farm exits, and reduced government expenditures.

There is growing support among U.S dairy farmers, farm organizations, and members of congress for managing dairy production growth without issuing a strict quota, prohibiting expansion, or halting trade.

Therefore, NFU calls on Congress to establish a mandatory program for managed growth based on market demand and price stability. Such a program should increase farmer profitability by:

  • Elevating milk prices
  • Preventing overproduction
  • Reducing milk price volatility

Such a program should also:

  • Allow for beginning farmer entry
  • Reduce government expenditures
  • Respond to global market conditions
  • Be national and mandatory so that all dairy producers participate
  • Allow for on-farm processing, value-added, and direct-to-consumer sales
  • Allow for planned growth in response to profitable market demand.
  • Be designed in such a way that any production base does not acquire value
  • Have meaningful farmer input in development, implementation, and governance