NFU rejects ‘Green Deal’ but addresses climate change
BELLEVUE, Wash. — Delegates to the National Farmers Union annual convention here on Tuesday maintained the group’s commitment to addressing climate change, but rejected a proposal that it become involved in the Green New Deal that some Democrats in Congress have proposed.
The NFU, the nation’s second-largest general farm organization and the most Democratic-leaning one, has long been involved in the climate change debate and has shown more willingness to address the issue than most other farm groups on the grounds that carbon sequestration and other farm practices offer farmers opportunities as well as challenges.
This year state delegations brought policy proposals on the Green New Deal, regenerative agriculture, and climate change to the convention, and the NFU’s policy committee combined them into a document that did not endorse the Green New Deal as written but did use the term.
The proposal said “The Green New Deal is a bold proposal to transform our society, but as it stands, the resolution appeals to an urban voter base and does not recognize the essential contribution of rural America.”
The proposal continued, ‘We need to have a seat at the table as the Green New Deal framework is being developed. National Farmers Union policy supports no less than 30 individual positions that align with the core values of the Green New Deal.”
But delegates from rural states such as North Dakota and Montana as well as California did not want to be associated with policy and phrasing that has been promoted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and others viewed as on the left of the Democratic Party.
As Ryan Taylor, a delegate from North Dakota and former Democratic state legislator and gubernatorial candidate, put it, “The Green New Deal is polarizing language.”
Instead the delegates turned to a proposal from the Minnesota Farmers Union that said “In order to empower family farmers to lessen the negative impacts of climate change, NFU supports policies, collaborations with consumers, and efforts throughout the agricultural value chain.”
Not all delegates agreed. One Wisconsin delegate said that NFU should get together with “these energetic young legislators” who are “driving the discussions” and influence them on policies that affect farmers.
In an interview after the convention adjourned, NFU President Roger Johnson noted that the group has been committed to addressing climate change for years, but he noted that there were eight special orders in all, and that he expects the board to emphasize those that deal with the economic plight of farmers and trade issues.
Special orders prioritize issues for the NFU board and leaders.
“There is lots of financial strain. We may lose the next generation of farmers,” Johnson said.
He noted that the delegates were enthusiastic about returning to supply management in dairy and even in grains, policies that Congress has abandoned in recent years.
Johnson acknowledged that convincing Congress to pass supply management policies right after passing a new farm bill would be “very difficult,” but he said what happens in farm policy may depend on whether the farm economy improves.
One delegate noted that when truck manufacturers can’t sell trucks they don’t make more trucks.
But without policy incentives to reduce production in times of surplus, farmers will just plant more and problems will get worse, Johnson noted, pointing out a perennial problem in agricultural policy.
NFU did not take a position on the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, but it did pass a special order on trade that said the Trump administration should “resolve trade issues that affect family farms and ensure the WTO (World Trade Organization) can act as a neutral arbiter in trade.”
The group did not support the existing North American Free Trade Agreement, but farmers have exported a lot to Mexico and Canada since NAFTA passed and Johnson said he does not think NFU members “would support getting rid of it.”
The USMCA does make some improvements in NAFTA including the dairy relationship with Canada, although many NFU members are sympathetic with Canada’s dairy supply management system, Johnson said.
Johnson said he expects the board to call for additional USMCA negotiations on labor and environmental provisions on prescription drug regulation, since NFU has a strong interest in rural health care.
The delegates also passed special orders urging the Agriculture Department to develop labeling for cell-based protein that would differentiate it from meat that comes from animals and to stop more mergers of agricultural suppliers and buyers of commodities.
A special order on biofuels calls on the government to allow higher blends of ethanol such as E30 and E85.
In his own address to the delegates, Johnson said it is time for the Environmental Protection Agency to allow the sale of E30, and noted that NFU had had taken the lead in stopping EPA from issuing a rule prohibiting the use of E30.
The special order noted that NFU has retained a law firm to research the viability of different potential avenues for challenging and overcoming the current EPA barriers to the use of midlevel ethanol fuel blends greater than E15, which EPA is expected to approve for year round sale by June.