WASHINGTON, March 2, 2016 - Debates over national mandates on draining wetlands, ethanol production and biotech food labeling, plus a friendly but spirited vice presidential election contest, await National Farmers Union members at their annual convention opening Saturday in Minneapolis.

NFU President Roger Johnson said the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 rule on Waters of the United States (WOTUS), now held up in the courts, differs in one crucial way with NFU’s position: it clearly exerts authority over all prairie pothole wetlands. Largely because of that, “We have states that continue to strongly support the WOTUS rule, and other states opposing,” so debate over changing WOTUS is surely on tap.

The nation’s second-largest farmer organization will also look at ways to leverage increased ethanol production, and to get EPA to comply with the statutory mandate for production, which the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard set at 22.25 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel fuel for this year, compared with the 18.1 billion that EPA set last year for 2016. Meanwhile, U.S. plants produced 16.1 billion gallons in 2015, and the industry expects up to 16.4 billion this year. “We want the statutory numbers followed,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he hopes the NFU can play a helpful role in settling the national fight over mandating foods labeled for their biotech contents. His organization supports the right of consumers to know about products made with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) but also wants to see a uniform national policy that respects a consumer’s right to know. Debate continues on how to best resolve the question, he says.

And for the next farm bill, “Probably at the top of the list is what the safety net (for farm income) is going to look like. With the low commodity prices, a lot of folks have been struck (hurt economically)… in particular, those who have started farming in the past eight or 10 years,” Johnson said.

No one is challenging Johnson for the presidency, but the runoff for a two-year vice president’s position will feature Donn Teske, a Kansas cattle rancher who now holds the position, and Tammy Basel, a South Dakota sheep and cattle rancher who now serves on NFU’s policy committee. They will lobby members next weekend and each gets 10 minutes to make a pitch to the convention.

The vice presidency is an active spot with NFU, but it hasn’t historically been a stepping stone to the presidency. Teske, who is also the Kansas Farmers Union president, says he has no wish to serve as NFU president in years ahead, but would like to serve another two-year term as vice president. Representing NFU, he was recently reappointed to EPA’s farm policy panel, called the Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Committee, which took farmers’ side when the WOTUS rule was drafted.

Basel, meanwhile, says she has honed her leadership skills and wants to help build NFU. She has “a deep passion for cooperatives and local leadership,” and has encouraged more women to serve on their co-op boards. Basel was recently appointed to the Cattlemen’s National Beef Board, which oversees the beef checkoff program, was previously president of Women Involved in Farm Economics, and still serves as WIFE’s sheep/goats sector consultant. She runs the sheep operations on the Basel ranch, which she and her husband, Dallas, operate.


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