Divided NFU Shifts on Issues
National Farmers Union Adjusts Position on GMO Labeling, Conservation-Crop Insurance Link
Jerry Hagstrom DTN Political Correspondent
Fri Mar 11, 2016 05:04 PM CST MINNEAPOLIS (DTN) — At its national convention here this week, the National Farmers Union shifted its position on labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients from mandatory to voluntary, and softened its support for linking eligibility for crop insurance subsidies to conservation compliance by stating that eligibility should not depend on wetlands determinations.
At its national convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, this week, the National Farmers Union shifted its position on labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients from mandatory to voluntary. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton) The changes in those positions came after wrenching debates that pitted NFU’s traditional membership base of conventional crop farmers in the Plains against farmers in other states, who are more likely to be growers of fruits and vegetables and organic crops that they sell through farmers markets or directly to consumers.
The debate reflected changes in the NFU membership over time. The National Farmers Union was founded in Texas in 1902 as an organization of crop farmers and livestock producers worried about unfair corporate dominance. As the number of farmers has gone down, Farmers Union chapters in Oklahoma and North Dakota in particular have maintained their memberships by selling insurance and declaring those insurance buyers as members.
At the same time, Farmers Union has recruited the nontraditional members in states in which there were already chapters, including Wisconsin and Minnesota, and attempted to spread its influence by recruiting small farmers in California, New England, Hawaii, and other states.
In a speech to the convention before the voting took place, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, a former elected North Dakota agriculture commissioner, noted the differences, but said that "it is my belief that these two types of agriculture not only have a lot in common, but in a lot of areas they can learn and benefit from one another."
Johnson noted that some states such as Minnesota, where the large cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have the population needed to make farmers markets and direct sales to consumers profitable, both types of farmers exist in the same state.
CROP INSURANCE AND CONSERVATION
Johnson noted that the two types of farmers agree on the need to defend crop insurance from critics and are united in their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement