Delegates Vote on NFU President & Policy During 2020 Convention
HURON, S.D. – During the 118th NFU Convention held in Savannah, Georgia March 1-3, 2020, South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) delegates helped elect Rob Larew to serve as the new National Farmers Union (NFU) President following the retirement of North Dakota farmer, Roger Johnson.
“South Dakota should be very proud in the way our delegates represented our state’s policy and our family farmers and ranchers,” explains Doug Sombke, SDFU President and fourth-generation Conde farmer.
During a meeting with South Dakota’s delegates prior to election, Larew promised to be a strong voice for family farmers and ranchers. “I will work to keep our organization’s focus where it needs to be. I will keep fighting like hell for the cattle and dairy industries.”
On the policy floor, who gets to represent the voice of farmers and ranchers as delegates, led to a lively discussion. Among the first items of business was a proposal to change NFU Bylaws to specify that all NFU convention delegates, participating in policy discussion and voting for policy, must meet the current USDA definition of an agriculture producer. The USDA defines a producer as an individual who raises and sells $1,000 or more worth of agricultural products each year.
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“Without this clear definition, anyone a state appoints can serve as a delegate,” Sombke explains. “This could include CEOs of corporate agriculture.”
While South Dakota’s delegates joined with several states’ delegates and voted for this change, more delegates voted to leave the bylaws as they are currently written.
Sombke says educating other states about the importance of this bylaw change will remain a focus as he engages with other states’ leaders throughout the year. Along with his role as SDFU President, Sombke serves as President of Farmers Union Enterprises and as Treasurer of the NFU Executive Committee.
“If we don’t protect this organization by having actual farmers and ranchers making the decisions for farmers and ranchers, then what are we doing,” Sombke asks.
Sombke references the organization’s history. “When Farmers Union was first formed in Texas to help cotton farmers receive a fair price, you had to know a secret handshake in order to attend meetings because they were worried about owners of cotton gins infiltrating. Even then, they knew that when farmers get together and have a unified voice, they can make positive change.”
Sombke is optimistic that the change will come about in 2021.
As he, the other delegates and SDFU members reflect on the two days of policy, there is quite a bit of optimism over the policy developed and its ability to clearly reflect SDFU members’ needs and SDFU policy.
National policy passed that aligns with SDFU includes the following:
Passing a Special Order of Business focused on Truth in Labeling (introduced by SDFU)
Inserting new language restricting biofuel hardship waivers
Voting down a change that would impact farmers’ water management rights
Passing an amendment to hold rail lines accountable when it comes to basis
“Somebody’s got to initiate positive change,” explains SDFU delegate Brian Cain, a crop and cattle producer from Miller.
Even when a delegate’s policy discussion did not align with South Dakota’s policy, SDFU delegate, Gerri Eide says it proved how every state’s voice is heard. “Policy provides an opportunity for all state’s delegates to be heard. Even those in the minority. We all learned something from each other,” says the Gettysburg farmer and small business owner.
Cain and Eide were among South Dakota Farmers Union members elected to serve as delegates during the 2020 NFU Convention. Other delegates included Terry Sestak, Tabor; Jeff and Rachel Kippley; Gail Temple, Clark; Dallis Basel, Union Center and Scott and Amber Kolousek, Wessington Springs.
“It’s fun to see a certain amount of disagreement throughout policy,” explains Rob Lee, De Smet farmer and crop insurance adjuster. “From the beginning it shows how fluid and responsive this organization is to current topics in agriculture.”
Lee and his wife, Darcie represent South Dakota in the 2019 Class of Farmers Union Enterprise Leadership Conference. NFU Convention is one of five events they attend which focuses on developing rural leaders.
The lively policy discussion also impressed David Reis, a Reliance rancher and District 4 board member.
Topics covered everything from renewable hardship waivers, basis oversight and truth in labeling to testing the purity of honey and management of endangered species.
“Actual farmers are up at the microphone making sure policy is stated in such a way that their needs are addressed,” Reis explains. “Even though not all policy impacts me or other South Dakota farmers, in most cases, what concerns one farmer should concern all of us.”
The 2020 Convention marks one of several Salem farmer, Jim Wahle has attended as a delegate and SDFU board member. This year however, he served in a new role. Wahle was a member of the NFU Policy Committee. In this role, Wahle spent a week in D.C. in January, reviewing the current NFU policy with the other committee members. Throughout the first two days of convention, any bylaw or policy changes states hoped to make, needed to first come before the policy committee for review.
“This was unlike any experience I have ever had,” Wahle says. “It was quite educational and at times frustrating. I agreed to serve because I like the values Farmers Union stands for – education, cooperation and legislation.”
Like Wahle, Aberdeen farmer, Kirk Schaunaman has attended several conventions. This year, he was impressed by the leadership he saw from South Dakota’s farmer-delegates. “It’s positive when you see younger people involved and wanting to take active roles for our future,” Schaunaman says. “Through Farmers Union, we have strength in numbers. At the end of the day, the policy put in place here will be the policy our national organization follows as it represents us in D.C.”
–South Dakota Farmers Union
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