WASHINGTON, March, 9, 2016 - The best forces for expanding National Farmers Union membership are the swelling ranks of small and part-time farmers, many of whom produce and market their products in and around urban areas, along with the logistical support and “symbiotic relationship” NFU has with its QBE Farmers Union Insurance affiliates across most of the 33 states with Farmers Union organizations.
That is part of the 2016 outlook NFU President Roger Johnson delivered to members at their 114th annual convention in Minneapolis. But, he says, “It does not go unnoticed that the fastest growing, very visible part of our membership is a different kind of farmer” than the traditional field crop and livestock commodity farmers that have so long been NFU’s mainstay. The organization’s greatest enthusiasm, he said, comes from “the CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture groups), the farmers markets, the organics, the folks who are doing direct marketing to their customers.”
In Johnson’s view: “They have a different dynamic. Most of their customers tend to be well-off folks like I am, and don’t dicker about prices. They are consumers that want to know more and more and more about their food and where it comes from.” It’s largely for those sorts of farmers that a two-day leadership conference has been added at the front end of NFU’s annual convention next year in San Diego, he said.
Meanwhile, membership in affiliate Farmers Union state and regional organizations has continued to slip below the 200,000 mark in recent years, though Johnson cheered the North Dakota Farmers Union’s addition of 4,500 members in 2015, and 300 in Hawaii, which was a 45 percent hike. NFU remains the second-largest American farmer organization: Smaller than the American Farm Bureau Federation but still ahead of the National Corn Growers Association, which claims about 150,000 members.
NFU enrollment tends to be strong and growing where the insurance side is also growing because the insurance company, which covers farm property, crops, and so forth, and the Farmers Union organizations, promote and recruit for each other, Johnson said. So while growth in the organization’s strong states across the Great Plains and in the north-central U.S. is positive, he said NFU needs a new focus on growth in its insurance business and recruitment in the eastern Corn Belt and the Atlantic Coast states, where membership is sparse.
Johnson also laid out NFU’s foremost targets on agricultural policy for the year ahead, including opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and an increase in ethanol and biodiesel production mandated by the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard.
He also focused on negative impacts for farmers from the continued consolidation of seed, grain, chemical and livestock industries. He noted the impending purchase of Switzerland-based Syngenta AG by China National Chemical Corp., noting there are “six major seed and chemical suppliers” available to U.S. farmers, “and soon to be five . . . likely soon four.” He believes that “the economic concentration is adding to the cost-price squeeze” that producers of both field crops and livestock are facing this year.
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