For more than 75 years, Wisconsin Farmers Union has been at the forefront of promoting legislative concepts and ideas, educating youth and members and the general public about issues that affect agriculture.
WFU was chartered in 1930 in Chippewa Falls as a state organization of the National Farmers Union. NFU was founded in 1902 by grassroots farmers concerned with stability and farm income. The Farmers Union has a long, rich history in policy development and advocacy, but also a strong connection to cooperative development. WFU was organized simultaneously with the development of the Farmers Union Central Exchange Cooperative, later known as CENEX and now CHS – the largest ag co-op in the U.S. Today, both the WFU and NFU still stand up for farmers.
On a mission
Some of the key issues the organization has been involved with over the years as well as some of their key history include:
* In 1916, dismantled program of low-interest, long-term credit, resulting in the enactment of the Federal Farm Loan Act establishing 12 Federal Land Banks and advocated voting rights for women.
* In 1935, Farmers Union played a key role in the operation of Rural Electric Association resources as cooperatives.
* In 1954, NFU was instrumental in the successful passage of school milk legislation by Congress and the refund of the federal gas tax on agricultural non-highway uses.
* In 1971, blocked efforts to eliminate USDA as a cabinet-level agency.
* In 1983, worked to protect family dairy farmers by helping to develop dairy legislation to reduce excessive milk production and secured passage of emergency farm credit legislation to defer FHA loans to help keep farmers in business.
* In 2003, WFU was successful in restoring full funding to Wisconsin's Farmland Preservation Program.
* In 2008, farm bill was signed and implemented with many of NFU's top priorities incorporated, including, Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), the 10-acre minimum rule, permanent disaster assistance, interstate shipment of state inspected meats, MILC continuation and increased funding for the next generation of renewable fuels.
"The bottom line is we want to ensure that family farmers have a profitable way of life," says WFU President Sue Beitlich. "It boils down to having good policies in place where agriculture is concerned."
Beitlich notes that the organization represents farmers of all types and farm sizes.
WFU's mission statement states: "We are a member-driven farm organization that is committed to enhancing the quality of life for farmers and rural communities and all people through educational opportunities cooperative endeavors and civic engagement."
Beitlich believes the organization does a good job representing the needs of all farmers.
"We don't get focused on one issue that represents just one commodity which can make my job very interesting because we have so many diverse types of farmers in Wisconsin," Beitlich notes. "We have conventional and organic dairy farmers and livestock producers, we have many different crops grown in Wisconsin and we look out for all of those. It's an amazing responsibility but I think our rich history has proven that we have and can continue to be the reasoned voice for farmily farmers."
Issues on the horizon
What are the issues Farmers Union is working on now?
"The USDA needs to get the farm bill rules rolled out because farmers are waiting to participate in FSA programs," she says. "At the state level, we're pushing for our Homegrown Renewable Energy Campaign. At the federal level cap and trade will be an important issue we plan to ensure agriculture is a part of. We see President Obama wanting to look more carefully at trade agreements and our position has been to not support the free trade agreements we've engaged in the last decade unless labor and environmental standards are fair and currency manipulation does not occur."
Beitlich says after April 1, dairy farmers should be aware of a new FDA ruling regarding rendering of cattle 30 months of age or older. Farmers should check with their dead stock pick up provider to find out if their rendering plant will be installing equipment hat can remove the specific risk material (brain and spinal cord). "This ruling hasn't been talked about very much and it's one Farmers Union has spent time with FDA trying to change. This not only affects livestock and dairy farmers but our locker and slaughter plants.
"Who's going to certify all this," she asks. "It seems so far fetched. We've had one BSE incident (in 2003) and that was a Canadian cow. There are certain rules farmers have to follow. In Wisconsin if you bury a cow, you have to dig the hole six feet deep. That brings up the concern about ground water and soil contamination and if animals are disposed of on the farm, then those carcasses are not being tested for BSE."
Beitlich also believes it's time to revisit supply management for milk.
"We've talked about and Farmers Union has long supported a supply management system for milk for years," Beitlich says. "With low milk prices again, that will be back on the table. We still import a lot of dairy into this country. It's just a constant job to look at this and ensure our dairy policy benefits farmers and not just the processors. And policy is where change happens."
Partnering with other groups is also a high priority, Beitlich says.
"Our main goal is to continue to build good working relationships with other farm groups, commodity groups and trade associations to find ways to work together for the betterment of all farmers."