At the 85th annual Wisconsin Farmers Union State Convention, Jan. 29-31 in Appleton, delegates from across the state adopted resolutions reflecting WFU's views on key issues.
'One of WFU's strengths as an organization is that we represent a wide variety of farmers coming from diverse backgrounds,' said WFU President Darin Von Ruden. 'Their ability to respectfully discuss and come to a consensus on difficult policy issues gives me hope that members of both political parties can do the same and enact sensible legislation that truly addresses the needs of family farmers.'
The following were among the Special Orders of Business that reflect WFU's top policy priorities for the coming year.
✔ NONPARTISAN REDISTRICTING — In order to end gerrymandering, restore competition to electoral races, and ensure that voters are electing their representatives, rather than the other way around, WFU supports the creation of a nonpartisan entity to perform all future legislative redistricting for city, county, state and federal offices in the state of Wisconsin.
✔ CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM — In the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign spending, WFU calls upon the State Legislature to pass an advisory referendum to be placed on the ballot allowing voters to reaffirm their view that corporations are not people, and money is not speech.
✔ FAIR COMPETITION IN THE AGRIBUSINESS SECTOR — In 2015, a number of major agri-business mergers exacerbated concentration in the already over-consolidated food and agriculture sectors. JBS SA acquired Cargill Inc.'s pork unit, creating the second largest pork processing company in the U.S. Dow and DuPont agreed to merge, creating the world's second largest chemical business and reducing competition in the agricultural chemicals market. In light of these developments, WFU calls for a Congressional investigation of monopolistic business practices and growing concentration of ownership in the agricultural sector as well as Department of Justice follow-through on the antitrust investigations it has already commenced. In addition, WFU members called for state policies to limit corporate farming and vertical integration and for preservation of the Dodd-Frank 'Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act' provisions related to swaps, futures, options, and other instruments regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission as they pertain to commodity financing and hedging.
✔ HIGH CAPACITY WELLS — WFU supports the consideration of cumulative impacts in high capacity well permit applications. WFU believes that no new permit should be needed for the replacement or repair of a high capacity well and that a high capacity well permit should transfer with the sale of the land, provided that the DNR conducts a periodic review of all high capacity well permits and withdrawals.
WFU policy delegates also discussed a variety of other topics.
One of the more spirited debates focused on a proposal to express opposition to state funds going to independent charter schools. The discussion on this point highlighted the benefits that public charter schools managed by a school district can offer to rural communities, in contrast with independent charter schools that are not accountable to taxpayers or the elected school board. After discussion, WFU delegates voted to oppose public school funding to independent charter schools.
Another topic that ignited considerable passion was the package of changes to the CHS Cooperative bylaws that were proposed in late 2015. WFU delegates raised strong concerns about these proposed changes, noting that they represent a departure from the cooperative ideals on which the CHS cooperative was founded. Several members stepped to the microphone to decry the chipping-away of ownership and control by member/patron users, and the 'corporatization and managerialization' of CHS and other cooperatives.
Delegates reaffirmed WFU's standing policy that 'Core cooperative principles require that directors of co-ops are the 'producers at risk,' and the managers serve an advisory role. Grassroots control of cooperatives is lost when non-producers serve as directors. The direction and purpose of cooperatives can be changed considerably when 'at risk' members no longer guide the co-op. Wisconsin Farmers Union opposes proposals to allow local or regional managers or other non-producers to become voting directors.'
Other language adopted by delegates included:
✔ Support for the Ag Producer Security Fund in its current form and opposition to changes that would be harmful to farmers.
✔ Support for public-private efforts to extend affordable high-speed internet service to all households and small businesses.
✔ Opposition to privatization of drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities.
✔ With regard to herbicides and pesticides, requiring applicators to disclose information about agri-chemical applications to adjacent landowners if neighbors request that information, and labeling of foods produced using neonicotonoids.
✔ A call for a clear, consistent and stable state framework for supporting increased investments in distributed renewable generation.
✔ Reaffirmation of the importance of UW-Extension to farmers and rural communities and a call for restored funding in the next state budget.