National Farmers Union (United States)
|Board of Directors|
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 1902 in Point, Texas, 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 Donn Teske. Former NFU Presidents have included Tom Buis and David Frederickson
Today, National Farmers Union represents more than 200,000 family farms and ranches across the United States. There are organized chapters in 33 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 NFU convene in Washington, D.C., to talk with legislators about solutions to problems they are facing.
Their state their mission as, "To advocate for the economic and social well-being, and quality of life of family farmers, ranchers, fishermen and consumers and their communities through education, cooperation and legislation. NFU advocates sustainable production of food, fiber, feed and fuel." They also state, "NFU will continue to be the respected, influential and independent national voice and coalition leader that bridges family producers and consumers on behalf of a vibrant and growing grassroots membership."
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 and in 1936 it promoted the Commodity Exchange Act. In 1934, it absorbed the once-powerful American Society of Equity. In 1943, NFU campaigned to make school lunches permanent, and two years later was a founding member of Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE). 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 1949 the NFU fought hard for the Brannan Plan which would provide generous subsidies to farmers, especially to those with smaller than average operations. All the other major farm groups opposed the Brannan Plan, and it never passed Congress.
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, NFU was successful in blocking these efforts.
During the 1970s, 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, 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, NFU was one of the leaders of a coalition of 165 farm and consumer groups that 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 NFU led the charge. The labeling finally went into effect September 30, 2008, but is still being fought by multinational meat companies.
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. NFU is taking an active part in making sure that the agricultural sector address global climate change.
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, NFU supports “a well-maintained system of waterways, railways and roads works to ensure the free flow 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. 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. 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, 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. NFU also supports estate tax relief for family farms and ranches. Environmental concerns also play a big part in 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. NFU has tried to fight these criticisms, with president Tom Buis claiming that over 80 percent of the retail price of food comes after the food item has left the farm.
The election of Barack Obama in November 2008 was largely seen as a win for NFU, who had graded each of the candidates based on their policies. Obama received a perfect 100 percent 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 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.
NFU supports Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL). COOL was first passed in 2002 and then refined in 2008, mandates that muscle cuts of meat and some vegetables, nuts and fruits sold at retail must contain a label informing consumers about the country where the product was sourced.
- 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
- Charles M. Hardin, "The Politics of Agriculture in the United States." Journal of Farm Economics 32#4 Part 1 (1950): 571-583.
- Virgil W. Dean, An Opportunity Lost: The Truman Administration and the Farm Policy Debate (University of Missouri Press. 2006)
- Allen J. Matusow, Farm Policies and Politics in the Truman Years (1967).