National Farmers Union (United States)
|National Farmers Union|
|Region served||United States|
|Main organ||Board of Directors|
The National Farmers Union (officially Farmers' Educational and Cooperative Union of America) is a national federation of State Farmers Union organizations in the United States. It is the second largest general farm organization in the country, after Farm Bureau. The organization was founded in Point, Texas, in 1902 and is now headquartered in Washington, D.C. Today, the organization continues its original mission: to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers and ranchers and their rural communities. It does this by promoting legislation and education beneficial to farmers, and by developing cooperative buying and selling methods and businesses. The current president is Roger Johnson, and the vice president is Claudia Svarstad. Former NFU Presidents have included Tom Buis and David Frederickson
Today, the National Farmers Union represents more than a quarter million family farms and ranches across the United States. There are organized chapters in 32 different states, and proposals are often started at the local level before moving up to the state and national levels. Once in the spring and once in the fall, leaders of the NFU convene in Washington, D.C., to talk with legislators about solutions to problems they are facing.
The National Farmers Union was founded in 1902, and since then has been politically involved in many issues. It was only a year later that they formed their first marketing cooperative. In the early 1900s they campaigned for both a parcel post system, direct election of senators, and voting rights for women. Their efforts also led to the enactment of the Federal Farm Loan Act. This act established twelve Federal Land Banks.
In 1930 the organization established a youth education program, and in 1936 it promoted the Commodity Exchange Act. In 1934, it absorbed the once-powerful American Society of Equity. In 1943, the NFU campaigned to make school lunches permanent, and two years later was a founding member of Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE). The NFU once again made their mark on school lunches when they helped pass school milk legislation through Congress. 1954 also saw the organization fight for a refund of the federal gas tax for gasoline used for agricultural purposes.
In 1966, NFU worked to fight poverty by founding Green Thumb (now known as Experience Works), which secures employment for low-income and older workers. When efforts were made to eliminate the United States Department of Agriculture as a cabinet-level agency, the NFU was successful in blocking these efforts.
During the 1970s, the NFU was influential in the development of rural health systems, and was also included as part of the World Hunger Action Council. In 1980, the organization was influential in passing a capital gains tax on foreigners who held US farmland.
In 1982, the NFU was influential in getting a portion of the military budget shifted to humanitarian food aid using commodity surpluses from the US. In 1990, the organization pushed for increased regulation of and a national standard for organically-produced food. In 2002, the NFU was one of the leaders of a coalition of 165 farm and consumer groups which helped establish mandatory country-of-origin labeling. It took even more additional effort in order for the country-of-origin labeling to be officially implemented, and the National Farmers Union led the charge. The labeling finally went into effect September 30, 2008.
The National Farmers Union is active in promoting renewable energy sources such as ethanol, biodiesel and wind energy. They were influential in the passing of the Renewable Fuels Standard in 2005. This standard mandates the use of 8 billion US gallons (30,000,000 m3) of renewable fuels by 2012, which represents a doubling of domestic renewable fuel production. The organization has also been supportive of legislation promoting gas stations that carry E-85. The organization is in favor of an ethanol fuel tax incentive. The NFU is taking an active part in making sure that the agricultural sector address global climate change.
The NFU also supports policies that improve quality of life in rural areas. Some areas they concentrate on are transportation, utilities, health care, and education. On most of these issues it aims to maintain a thriving rural environment where farming businesses can continue to prosper.
For transportation, the NFU supports “a well-maintained system of waterways, railways and roads works to ensure the free low of products to the market”. The organization also supports the continued expansion of telecomm utilities into rural areas, as well as adequate health care, including increased funding for emergency response personnel and greater access to prescription drugs. The NFU also supports full funding of the nation’s rural school districts.
The organization is opposed to the privatization of Social Security, citing the fact that rural America is aging faster than the rest of the nation while economic growth has been significantly slower.
The NFU makes a distinction between “Free Trade” and “Fair Trade”, and is in favor of policies that protect family farms and ranches. In the marketplace today, it has become difficult for these family farms to compete with countries with lesser environmental and labor standards.
Concerning tax policy, the NFU is in favor of a more progressive tax structure and are opposed to a flat tax. The organization is also in favor of limited income tax refunds for lands used for agricultural purposes. The NFU also supports estate tax relief for family farms and ranches. Environmental concerns also play a big part in the NFU’s policy. They are in favor of Safe Water Drinking Act, which would help protect ground water in rural areas. It is also in favor of conservation, responsible use of public lands, responsible use of chemical agents, and protection of wildlife and endangered species.
In light of rising food prices, many in the media have criticized and blamed farmers. The NFU has tried to fight these criticisms, with president Tom Buis claiming that over 80% of the retail price of comes after the food item has left the farm.
The election of Barack Obama in November 2008 was largely seen as a win for the NFU, who had graded each of the candidates based on their policies. Obama received a perfect 100% rating, based on his support of the 2008 Farm Bill and a renewable fuel standard. On the other hand, the organization gave John McCain a grade of zero percent, in part because he was in favor of reducing subsidies for ethanol and food products.
Another project that the NFU is currently working on is a carbon credit program. It allows farmers to earn income by storing carbon in their soil through “no-till crop production, conversion of cropland to grass, sustainable management of native rangelands and tree plantings”. In the program’s first two years of operation, it has earned over $8 million for participating producers.
- Leadership and Board of Directors-Growth Energy
- Dave Frederickson, Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Agriculture
- Bahmer, Robert H. "The American Society of Equity." Agricultural History, Vol. 14, No. 1; pp. 33-63