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January 19, 2008 - Challenge Facing General Farm Organizations

During my recent visit to New Orleans this month to cover the 89th annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau, I was reminded again of the growing challenge facing a general farm organization. That challenge is trying to satisfy policy needs of a diverse commodity producer membership that produces milk, citrus, pork, beef, grain, vegetables, fruit and dozens of other agricultural commodities. How do you adopt policy that will satisfy all of those producers?

Perhaps the biggest division at the moment is between grain producers and farmers and ranchers in the livestock business. Grain producers are enjoying record high prices because of strong demand for energy as well as strong demand in the export market. But those high feed prices translate into tough times for livestock producers and they are not happy campers right now. I will attend the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association annual meeting in Reno in February and I know I’m going to hear cattlemen say the tax break for ethanol should be eliminated to help level the playing field for them.

There was a time when farm policy was the domain of the three major farm organizations...National Grange, National Farmers Union and Farm Bureau; later they were joined by the National Farmers Organization and the American Agriculture Movement. All five are general farm organizations.

But then, in the last four decades we have seen a proliferation of commodity-specific policy organizations representing dairy, hog, beef, corn, wheat and other producers. Leaders of these commodity organizations can focus on specific issues that affect only their producers. The National Corn Growers Association can lobby for a continuation of the tax break for ethanol; the NCBA can lobby to kill it; Farm Bureau would find it impossible to adopt either of these policies.

The discussion I heard among Farm Bureau leaders basically said... “give it some time, farm prices always moderate and all of us will find a way to work through it.” AFBF President Bob Stallman summed it up this way... “Once again, farmers and ranchers from all across the country, who raise a range of crops and livestock, have come together to decide what is best for U.S. agriculture overall.” It will be interesting to hear what cattlemen in Reno and grain producers at the Commodity Classic in Nashville have to say about the feed vs fuel issue.

I think we still need general farm organizations and I wish success to their leadership as they deal with policy for a diverse U.S. agriculture.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.