Wisconsin Farmers Union members were in Savannah March 1-3 for the National Farmers Union 118th Anniversary Convention. More than 500 family farmers and ranchers convened in the historic city to set policy positions that support American farm families and strengthen rural communities.
Delegates to the convention adopted the NFU Policy Book and six special orders of business, including one on Dairy Policy Reform that was championed by WFU.
Rob Larew was elected to succeed Roger Johnson as the organization’s president. Larew, who was raised on a West Virginia dairy farm, served as NFU's Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Communications since fall 2016. Prior to his employment with NFU, Larew served over 22 years in Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most recently as the staff director of the House Committee on Agriculture.
“The reason for Farmers Union’s longstanding success – and the reason why I am so enthusiastic about leading this organization – is its grassroots structure,” Larew said. “Each year, our members set organizational directives and federal policy priorities in a democratic process, which ensures that the work we do in our national office is really in the best interest of the hard-working family farmers and ranchers feed, fuel, and clothe our nation.”
Patty Edelburg of Scandinavia, Wisconsin, was re-elected to serve as NFU Vice President.
Convention attendees heard keynote remarks from Matt Paul, a nationally recognized expert in public affairs, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. NFU President Roger Johnson delivered his final State of the Farmers Union address, offering an overview of his 11-year-long tenure and an optimistic outlook for the organization’s future. The convention also featured a panel on black land loss and voting rights and breakout sessions on precision agriculture, the history of grassroots organizing, regenerative farming, farm to table, and hemp production.
Serving as WFU delegates this year were Bryce Luchterhand, Unity; Craig Dunnum, Westby; Linda Ceylor, Catawba; Rick Adamski, Seymour; and WFU President Darin Von Ruden, Westby.
During the convention, Michelle Godez-Schilling of Dodgeville and Sarah Baghat-Eggert of Clayton took part in the Farmers Union Enterprises Leadership Program. Joey Ploeckelman of Athens was among graduates of the year-long NFU Beginning Farmer Institute. Erin Elsner of Medford attended and addressed the convention in her capacity on the NFU National Youth Advisory Council.
WFU District 8 Director Rick Adamski was among the inaugural group of recipients of the Bruce Miller Membership Award. Created in honor of late WFU member and Minnesota Farmers Union Membership Director Bruce Miller, the award honors members who have demonstrated outstanding leadership. Dunn County Farmers Union was also recognized for excelling in membership growth.
Others representing WFU at the convention included Maxine Luchterhand, Unity; Tina and Duane Hinchley, Cambridge; Chris Holman, Maria and Eleanora Davis, Custer; Chris Fullerton, Hayward; Jen Schmitz, Cashton; Dennis Rosen, Emerald; and WFU staff Pete Curran of Sun Prairie; Tommy Enright of Amherst, Brad Henderson and Cathy Statz of Chippewa Falls, and Kirsten Slaughter and Bobbi Wilson of Madison.
“Between low commodity prices, climate change, and trade uncertainty, there are so many challenges in farm country right now,” said Larew. “But there are so many bright spots too. As consumers get more interested in where their food comes from and how it’s made, new local and diverse agricultural markets are opening up. Conservation agriculture holds significant potential for financial and environmental benefits. Every day, new technologies are making it easier for farmers to improve efficiency and sustainability. And across the country, there’s a resurgence in support for family farm agriculture. So while this convention is a crucial opportunity to address the difficulties facing family farmers and ranchers, it’s also an opportunity to celebrate all the reasons we love agriculture and dedicate our lives to it.”
“With Rob’s connections in DC, I think he’ll do a tremendous job in carrying NFU’s voice forward,” Von Ruden said. “Looking down the road to the upcoming farm bill, Rob’s past experience in that process is going to be invaluable.”
Von Ruden, who dairy farms near Westby, also noted the significance of the undisputed passage of Dairy Policy Reform language calling for federal dairy policy that provides a safety net for family dairy farms in all regions and of all herd sizes, as well as a mechanism to manage milk supply to meet profitable demand.
“The level of agreement and solidarity we’re seeing among dairy farmers, not just in Farmers Union but in other farm organizations and milk marketing groups, is critical for needed change, and I think it’s directly attributable to the important Dairy Together work that WFU has been leading in the past several years. We look forward to continuing to move that effort forward within NFU and collaboratively – at the rate we’re losing dairy farms across the nation, dairy policy reform cannot come soon enough.”
“The multi-state collaboration and unanimous support for the dairy resolution at NFU convention is encouraging,” said WFU Government Relations Associate Bobbi Wilson, who has been spearheading the Dairy Together organizing. “We are united in our effort to restore profitability to family dairy farmers by managing growth in a sensible way. This is an example of what we can accomplish when we work together.”
Another highlight of the convention was mental health programming that connected Farmers Union members with resources to launch educational initiatives in their own states, Von Ruden said. “I’m glad NFU has taken that on,” he noted. “Mental health issues in our rural communities are a growing concern and one WFU hopes to continue to work with other groups to address in 2020.”
In order to provide the national organization a set of priorities for the coming year, delegates approved six special orders of business:
Full text of the adopted policy manual will be available soon at www.nfu.org.