Farmers Union elects new president

GREELEY, Colo. — Chad Franke will lead Rocky Mountain Farmers Union following his election at the general farm organization’s annual convention. Franke will succeed Dale McCall, who announced he would retire earlier this year. RMFU members also re-elected District Directors Danny Wood and John Field, as well as electing newcomer Hana Fancher to the board.

Franke was the fifth generation to own and operate his family farm near Akron, Colo. He has raised Berkshire hogs for Whole Foods and set up and operated a feed mill for small producers. He and his wife, Carolyn, now live near Lander, Wyo. They have an extensive history of involvement in Farmers Union events. Their adult children, Tim and Brooke, completed the RMFU summer camp programs and were recognized at this convention for earning their Torchbearer’s Awards.

“It has been a privilege to serve as vice president under Dale McCall and learn from one of the great advocates for education and family agriculture in our three states,” Franke said. “I thank him for his service as our president as well as his many years of support for family agriculture throughout his storied career and for the knowledge and guidance he has given to me. I look forward to continuing RMFU’s history of effectively advocating for family farmers and ranchers through the policy adopted at this convention, providing educational opportunities for our youth, producers, and the public, and moving our organization and agriculture forward into the future to the best of my abilities.”

Director Danny Wood and his wife, Lorrie, operate a fourth-generation farm near Peetz in northeastern Colorado. Director John Field and his wife, Linda, operate a ranch near Montrose, Colo. Director Hana Fancher lives in Wyoming where she is beginning a career as a market stewardship coordinator with the Land Institute.

Delegates and members to the convention heard from National Farmers Union President Rob Larew, whose comments focused on several leading topics including the initial work on the next farm bill, the need to address the anti-competitive environment caused by consolidation among agribusinesses, and the challenge farmers and ranchers face in maintaining an effective voice for rural communities and production agriculture while working with lawmakers, regulators and consumers.

Dawn Thilmany, a professor of ag economics at Colorado State University, provided a serious look into the rapidly changing food supply chain. She said on-line sales of food are here to stay. The trend toward on-line sales began before the impact of Covid in 2019, yet the event caused consumers to demand curbside sales from retailers much quicker than was expected.

Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg updated Farmers Union members on a variety of topics from ag labor availability to branding and marketing Colorado ag products.
Farmers Union members attending the convention selected delegates to the 2023 National Farmers Union convention. They also debated and adopted policy priorities for the upcoming year.
Members Recognized for Achievements

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union annually presents awards to members and others who have excelled at being advocates for farm and ranch families across Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. Awards went to the following individuals.

• Ken and Dallas Anderson of Center, Colo., were named the Farm Family of the Year. Ken served on the RMFU board of directors. As a community leader, Ken is actively involved in South Central Colorado Seniors, and he is a Saguache County Commissioner. He and Dallas raised a family and now welcome their children and grandchildren to be involved in the farm.

• Kathleen and Phillip Box of Tucumcari, N.M., accepted the Meritorious Service Award. Kathleen was an RMFU board member for many years. Phillip is a Farmers Union Insurance agent. Together, they have participated in Farmers Union local, state and national events.

• Jan Kochis was chosen for the Fellows Excellence in Leadership and Service Award sponsored cooperatively by American AgCredit and RMFU. Kochis became actively involved in Farmers Union in the late 1980s after being in the first fellows class. The RMFU Fellows program provides participants with educational training and opportunities to excel as leaders in their hometown communities and in the field of agriculture. Kochis was a leader in Mountain View Harvest Cooperative and Common Ground Colorado. She is the current chair of the RMFU board. Jan and her husband, Virgil, farm near Limon, Colo.

• John and Marion Stencel of Brighton, Colo., were honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. John grew up on a farm five miles east of Greeley, Colo. As a youth, he attended Farmers Union camps. After serving in Vietnam, John returned to Colorado where he helped organize Farmers Union member activities in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. In 1970, John was elected as president of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. He served in that capacity for 20 years. Then for nine years he lived in Washington, D.C., where he was the deputy administrator of the Farm Service Agency and worked with USDA’s Packers and Stockyards program. Later, John returned to Colorado and served five more years as president of RMFU.

• Steve Baer of Wiggins, Colo., was chosen as the FUSA Insurance Agent of the Year. Baer learned about Farmers Union Insurance from his father, Ray, who also was an agent. Baer is extremely supportive of community organizations with a special focus on youth sporting activities.

• Zach Withers accepted the John Stencel Leadership Award. This award is named after past RMFU President John Stencel, whose positive impact on the organization continues today. Withers, a member of the Northern New Mexico chapter, was applauded for his outstanding leadership and advocacy for family farmers and ranchers.

• Peter Chestnut, a New Mexico attorney and treasurer of the La Montanita Food Cooperative in Albuquerque, received the Cooperative Champions Award for 2022. Chestnut well understands and advocates for the value of cooperatives in building communities and creating social and economic advancements for members.

• Jeff Witte, the director and secretary of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, accepted the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union President’s Award. Witte grew up on his family’s ranch near Las Vegas, N.M. He worked with the state’s farmers and ranchers to have a voice in the legislative process. During this time, Witte helped bring farmer and rancher groups together. The Ag Group, as it is loosely known, still gathers every year before the legislative session to set policy priorities that will benefit all of agriculture. Witte helped create the New Mexico Agricultural Leadership Program, a two-year program that aims to develop effective leaders within the state’s food, agriculture and natural resource sectors.

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