Farmers and ranchers are hopeful future opportunities will boost their bottom lines, yet they face challenges surviving the current severe downturn in the ag economy. That was the reoccurring message of panelists and guest speakers at the annual Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) convention held Nov. 17-18 in Denver, Colorado.
RMFU President Dr. Dale McCall told the gathering that the 2018 Farm Bill will have a dramatic impact on agriculture and rural communities. Congress currently is working on rewriting the farm policy. Federal funding and policy priorities could either hurt or help farm or ranch families. McCall said farmers and ranchers need to voice their concerns and recommendations to lawmakers at the state and national levels. Given the diverse types of agricultural operations across the region, Congress needs to write a comprehensive farm bill, he explained. “We’ve got to be more vocal. Let’s do one additional outreach. Do one more thing that will make a positive impact.”
The event attracted more than 300 members and guests from all corners of Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming. As a general farm organization, RMFU members represent all types of agricultural production, from cow-calf operations and irrigated row crop farms to fruit and vegetable enterprises.
Two educational panels proved especially popular. One, “Adding Value On The Farm,” focused on opportunities for specialty products along the Front Range. The panel was led by Alan Lewis, director of government affairs for Natural Grocers. The other panel looked at how farmers and ranchers are working together to keep agriculture as a viable industry in communities large and small. Panelist Robert Sakata of Sakata Farms urged his audience to be more vocal in telling their stories to help non-farm residents understand the value of agriculture.
Kathleen Kelley of Meeker, CO received the Meritorious Service Award. Kelley was the first woman to serve as president of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Kelley worked with others to raise awareness of foreign countries dumping live cattle into U.S. markets. Her efforts led to the foundation of the Ranchers and Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), and she
published Market Concentration in Agriculture, which highlighted the growing concentration of market power among processing and marketing agribusinesses. When Kelley was 26, she became the youngest women elected to the Colorado Legislature. Today, she and her husband Reed continue to live on the family ranch she grew up on.
Doc and Marsha Daughenbaugh were recognized as the RMFU Farm Family of the Year for 2017. This Steamboat Springs, CO, family has worked for decades and across generations to be advocates for farm and ranch families. Marsha is a member of the state Farm Service Agency committee, executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance, and a mover and shaker in numerous ag organizations. Doc has been recognized by the Colorado Riparian Association and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. He also serves on the Colorado Judicial Performance Commission.
John Stencel Leadership Awards were presented to RMFU members Danny and Lorrie Wood, and Jimmy Dula. The Woods farm near Peetz, CO, where they have excelled in agriculture, community leadership, and in Farmers Union. Dula is known for his organizing efforts and his ability to engage others in being advocates for agriculture. John Stencel is a past president of RMFU and former recipient of the organization’s Meritorious Service Award.
Ken Brengle of Cortez received the FUSA Agent of the Year for 2017. Brengle has grown his business by 25 percent during his first year as an insurance agent. The next year he began selling crop insurance which led to additional sales growth. He was recognized equally for his support of the local Farmers Union chapter and his commitment to his community and his family.
The organization presented the Cooperative Achievement Award to Nathan Schneider of the University of Colorado, Boulder, for his work to develop cutting edge cooperative businesses.
Chad Franke of Roggen, CO, was re-elected as vice president; Ken Anderson of Center, CO, and Jan Kochis of Matheson, CO, were re-elected to the board of directors.
As a grassroots organization, RMFU members introduces, debated, and ultimately adopted policy priorities for the farm organization.