The Latest News and Food for Thought

// WFU RELEASE: WFU submits comments on Conservation Stewardship Program
Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Jan. 20, 2015

Contact: Danielle Endvick                              
715.723.5561 | cell 715.471.0398

Wisconsin Farmers Union submits comments on Conservation Stewardship Program
CHIPPEWA FALLS - Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) President Darin Von Ruden provided comments to the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today, praising the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for the assistance it provides farmers in managing their land sustainably while recommending a number of changes to its interim final rule which would increase the program's accessibility and overall effectiveness.

"WFU is proud to support programs such as CSP that reward farmers for their contributions to land stewardship," Von Ruden said. "We believe CSP is an excellent program that provides valuable assistance to farmers interested in implementing conservation practices into their operations, but it has the potential to become even better."


Von Ruden also urged WFU members, especially farmers participating in CSP to submit comments to NRCS before the deadline tonight at 10:59 CST. Comments can be submitted at: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=NRCS-2014-0008-0001


In his comments, Von Ruden voiced concern that CSP currently overemphasizes the significance of novel conservation activities while minimizing ongoing conservation activities carried out by farmers.


"While we greatly value the importance of new conservation within CSP, new activities should not outweigh retaining existing conservation practices within the program," Von Ruden said. "Instead, we encourage NRCS to base the program's ranking and payment rules on actual or expected conservation and environmental outcomes-regardless of whether they are generated from new or existing conservation practices."


Von Ruden also called for improvements in program access for beginning farmers and for those owning small or mid-sized farms. "Because our agricultural landscape is so diverse, it is important that CSP strive to include all types of farmers, regardless of the size of their operation," he said.


"Farmers can be great contributors toward preserving the environment and society is interested in rewarding their contributions," added Von Ruden. "The changes we are asking for would help to ensure that CSP has an even more positive impact on the future of agriculture."

// WFU RELEASE: WFU Supports Restrictions of Foreign Farmland Ownership
Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dec. 22, 2014
Contact: Danielle Endvick                              
715.723.5561 | cell 715.471.0398

WFU Supports Continued Restrictions of Foreign Farmland Ownership

CHIPPEWA FALLS - In a memo to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen concluded that Wisconsin's statute limiting the foreign ownership of farmland by nonresident aliens does not contradict the General Agreement on Trades and Services (GATS). Van Hollen issued the advisory opinion at the request of Representative Vos in his role as chairman of the Assembly Committee on Organization. Wisconsin state statute currently limits nonresident aliens and foreign corporations from owning more than 640 acres of farmland, and previous attempts to repeal the law by placing a provision in the 2013-2015 biennial budget failed as Wisconsin Farmers Union, among others, fought to maintain the restriction on foreign ownership of farmland.

Allowing foreign individuals, corporations, or governments to purchase an unlimited amount of land would be bad news for family farmers, according to Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden. "Elimination of the current law would drive up land prices to the point that a farmer looking to expand by purchasing his neighbor's 40 acres or a beginning farmer trying buy land would be priced out of the market."

Von Ruden also said the statute helps protect rural communities that would suffer should the legislature decide to remove it. "A strong and resilient economy is built on re-investment. When land is owned by Wisconsin residents, they put money back into the economy by doing business locally, sending their kids to area schools, and serving their communities. Rural Wisconsin cannot afford to lift the current restriction on foreign land ownership."

Van Hollen's decision should assuage the fears that Wisconsin was open to a legal challenge through the restriction on foreign land ownership. Wisconsin Farmers Union will monitor the budget and legislative process closely to ensure that there are no attempts to eliminate the restriction. 

// WFU RELEASE: Moving Solar Forward
Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dec. 17, 2014

Danielle Endvick, Communications Director, 715.471.0398, dendvick@wisconsinfarmersunion.com
Sarah Lloyd, Special Projects Coordinator, 608.844.3758, slloyd@wisconsinfarmersunion.com    

'Moving Solar Forward'
Farmers Union State Convention to open with focus on renewable energy

CHIPPEWA FALLS - A pre-convention workshop, "Moving Solar Forward," will kick off the Wisconsin Farmers Union 84th annual State Convention Jan. 23-25 at The Plaza Hotel in Eau Claire.

The workshop, from noon to 4:15 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 23, will feature two tracks, one covering on-farm and household solar installations and another on community and group solar projects in the state.

"We know that building a renewable energy infrastructure in our rural areas is essential for the viability of farming, agriculture and rural communities in the future," said WFU President Darin von Ruden, "so we are bringing together farmers, rural residents and folks working in energy and renewables for an active conversation on plans and strategies."

Track one will consider the steps necessary to assess, design, finance and install a solar system at a farm or residence. Presenters will provide case studies and lead a workshop activity for each participant to work out a task list, timeline and financing opportunities for the project they are considering. Speakers will include Josh Stolzenburg, North Wind Renewable Energy; Eric Udelhofen, H&H Solar; Zeus Stark, Next Step Energy; Brenda Heinen, USDA Rural Development; and Paul Dietmann, Badgerland Financial. Attendees to this track are asked to bring their own energy bills for a hands-on activity.

Track two will include a strategic roundtable on a collaborative push for solar in Wisconsin, with specific cases presented, including logistics and financing mechanisms for group solar purchases and community solar projects.  Speakers include Peter Murphy of Riverwest Cooperative Alliance; Dave Maxwell of Vernon Electric Cooperative, Doug Stingle of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association and Lynn Thompson from the Eau Claire Energy Cooperative, as well as invited lenders.

The workshop will kick off with an overview for all attendees on the "State of Solar in Wisconsin" by Michael Vickerman of RENEW Wisconsin. Both tracks will gather for a final general session sparking discussion on strategy and a work plan for moving solar forward together in Wisconsin.

The cost for the workshop is $15 for WFU members and $30 for nonmembers, which includes lunch. To register, call the WFU State Office at 715-723-5561 or send a check, payable to Wisconsin Farmers Union, with the printable registration form available at www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com.

WFU calls for farmers to be considered part of the energy solution, rather than the problem, with a focus on establishing clean, independent energy policy. Many WFU members have taken the initiative to install solar energy systems to support their farm operations, but the group recognizes there is much work yet to be done.

"Solar power is a shining American success story, with a solar system being installed in the U.S. every 3 minutes, on average; however solar installations in Wisconsin are not keeping pace with the rest of the country, and there is much to do to increase clean energy adoption in the Badger State." said Midwest Renewable Energy Association Development Director Doug Stingle, who will be among roundtable participants during the workshop. "Working with farmers and homeowners, businesses and others to highlight the benefits of solar - including job creation, local control and energy freedom - we can push Wisconsin forward."


// WFU RELEASE: Farmers Union objects to family farmer-hurting provisions snuck into Appropriations Bill
Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dec. 10, 2014
Contact: Danielle Endvick                              
715.723.5561 | cell 715.471.0398

Farmers Union objects to family farmer-hurting provisions snuck into Appropriations Bill

CHIPPEWA FALLS - Wisconsin Farmers Union spoke up today in opposition to several measures slipped into the 2015 Appropriations Act, all of which the group believes would hurt family farmers.

"Troubling provisions regarding Country of Origin Labeling, the Beef Checkoff reform and livestock and poultry regulations was knowingly placed into this bill in the hopes that they would fly under the radar," said WFU President Darin Von Ruden.

Particularly worrisome are two directives given to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack: First, that he propose changes to the popular Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law, and second, that he refrain from implementing needed reforms to the beef checkoff program.

This tactic is extremely disappointing given the fact that producers still have until 10:59 p.m. CST tonight to offer input to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on possible changes to the current Beef Checkoff program. The Beef Checkoff has recently come under fire for its heavy financial ties to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a group that lobbied against COOL, the Renewable Fuel Standard and even the 2014 Farm Bill, which included provisions for farmers and ranchers in incidents of natural disasters.

In a joint letter to House and Senate leaders earlier today, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson and United State Cattlemen's Association President Danni Beer noted their concern that the report language included on COOL could be used as an opportunity to stop the current appeals process at the World Trade Organization or to re-open the legislation that mandated COOL. The pair stressed that Congress should not intervene in the WTO process.

Additionally, another provision would effectively prevent the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration from implementing regulations on the livestock and poultry industry that would address an array of fraudulent, deceptive, anti-competitive and retaliatory practices.

"Wisconsin Farmers Union feels the entire agricultural community deserves to have a voice on these issues," Von Ruden said. The proposed changes are not in the best interests of family farmers. Slipping them into an appropriations bill is undemocratic and denies producers and consumers the opportunity to fully consider and debate the changes."

Read the letters sent to the Senate and House leaders here.

// WFU RELEASE: WFU urges farmers to comment on Beef Checkoff by Dec. 10th
Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Dec. 8, 2014

Contact: Danielle Endvick                              
715.723.5561 | cell 715.471.0398

Wisconsin Farmers Union urges farmers to comment on Beef Checkoff by Dec. 10th
CHIPPEWA FALLS - Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) President Darin Von Ruden today called for major and immediate changes to the current Beef Checkoff program and urged WFU members to submit comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture about how to strengthen and modernize the outdated program. 

"Beef Checkoff dollars should be used for promotion and research - not by lobbying organizations pushing to maintain the status quo," Von Ruden said. "It is important that WFU members take advantage of the opportunity to provide Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack with their valuable input by submitting comments to the USDA."

Von Ruden stressed that because all comments must be submitted by 10:59 p.m. CST on Wed., Dec. 10, the time to act is now. Comments can be submitted at http://www.regulations.gov/index.jsp#!docketDetail;D=AMS-LPS-14-0081.

WFU believes that any new Beef Checkoff should be a single program, modeled after the 1996 Act. It should promote exclusively domestic product and be controlled by producers who are actively involved in production agriculture.

In order to ensure that checkoff funds are not working against the economic interests of its members, Von Ruden stressed that any new Beef Checkoff program must include a clear separation between organizations receiving checkoff funds and all related commodity organizations which advocate and lobby for policy positions.

"The current Beef Checkoff is the only checkoff program that has failed to embrace this model," Von Ruden said. "As a consequence, it fails to safeguard the interests of family farmers. It is time for that to change."

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson agrees, pointing out that special interests tied to the checkoff have caused an enormous rift in the industry. "Ranchers dislike that their checkoff dollars are being controlled by a lobbying organization that is fighting against the very policies many of these ranchers support," he said.

Johnson notes that the current Beef Checkoff is controlled by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), an organization that has "aggressively lobbied against a number of very important producer and consumer programs, frequently placing themselves in direct opposition to the very producers they purport to represent."

WFU has a significant number of members who own dairy and beef cattle operations, making this issue extremely important to both the organization and the family farmers it represents.

"I strongly urge anyone who is concerned about the state of the current Beef Checkoff program to submit comments to the USDA today," Von Ruden said. "This could be our best chance to make sure that our checkoff dollars are working for, rather than against family farmers."

// WFU RELEASE: Registration now open for WFU State Convention
Monday, December 08, 2014

Dec. 8, 2014

Contact: Danielle Endvick                              
715.723.5561 | cell 715.471.0398

Registration now open for Wisconsin Farmers Union State Convention   
Annual event takes a closer look at hard-hitting issues facing Wisconsin's ag community

CHIPPEWA FALLS - Registration is now open and sponsors are being sought for the 84th annual Wisconsin Farmers Union State Convention Jan. 23-25 at The Plaza in Eau Claire. This year's convention builds upon the WFU motto of being "United to Grow Family Agriculture." Sessions throughout the weekend will delve into some of the big issues faced by rural communities and family farms today and investigate ways to build a more vibrant future for the next generation.

The weekend will kick off on Friday afternoon with a pre-convention workshop, "Moving Solar Energy Forward," which will feature two tracks, "On-Farm and Household Solar" and "Opportunities for Community and Group Solar Projects."

On Saturday morning, attendees will be able to choose from breakout sessions on rural schools, broadband access, water quantity and high-capacity wells, new ag technologies and pros and cons of the proposed Organic Checkoff.

In the afternoon, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson will provide an update on the national organization's priorities for the coming year. He will be followed by a panel touching on "GMOs: The Benefits and Risks of an Emerging Technology," featuring stakeholders from both sides of the issue.

Francis Thicke, Iowa dairy farmer, "agtivist" and author of "A New Vision for Iowa Food and Agriculture," will be the keynote at the Saturday night banquet. Afterward the local contemporary folk group Danville will take the stage.

The convention will wrap up on Sunday with workshops on risk management for dairy farmers, agritourism, cover crops, commodity marketing and checkoff programs.

Other activities throughout the weekend will include a concurrent Youth Co-op Convention geared toward junior and senior high students, a Torchbearer's Award Presentation for our youth program graduates and a WFU Foundation Fundraiser on Friday evening, with proceeds benefitting WFU Kamp Kenwood. Members will also discuss policy and pass resolutions to guide WFU's legislative efforts for the coming year.

The convention is open to the public but only member delegates may vote on policy issues. Early-bird registration ends Jan. 9. Daycare will be offered for young children during select times. To view the full agenda and sponsorship information or to register, visit www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com. For more information contact Diane Tiry at dtiry@wisconsinfarmersunion.com or 715-723-5561. 

// WFU RELEASE: The Election that Never Happened
Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Elections that Never Happened
By David Wright-Racette, Wisconsin Farmers Union Policy Organizer

On Tuesday, Nov. 4, voters had the opportunity to exercise their right to vote for the people they thought would best represent their district and the state of Wisconsin. Or did they?

This election featured an unprecedented number of uncontested races, leaving voters without a legitimate choice to make at the polls. Fifty-two of the 99 state Assembly races featured candidates running without any major party opposition, and 47 of those faced no opposition at all. On the state Senate side, only three of the races resulted in candidates that were separated by 10 percentage points or less when the final votes were tallied. This lack of competition and choice across the state disenfranchises voters and is bad for democracy.

So how did Wisconsin, a purple state that almost always features competitive elections for governor and president, become a place where only a handful of state Assembly and state Senate races are competitive or even contested?

Every 10 years state Senate, Assembly, and Congressional district lines are redrawn to ensure districts contain approximately the same number of people. This process, called redistricting, is performed by state legislatures unless they delegate the power to another entity. Redistricting has become an increasingly political process as the parties work to pack voters of the opposite party into as few districts as possible to maximize the number of potential victories in the next election. As a result, districts become less competitive which discourages candidates from running for office.

Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of drawing district lines to their own advantage and contributing to this problem. In Wisconsin, the Democrats have accused the Republicans of gerrymandering the districts to their own advantage in 2011 and are now calling for redistricting reform. Just across the border in Illinois, however, the roles are reversed. Republicans argue that the Democrats unfairly drew the district lines, and Illinois Republican State Senate Leader Christine Radogno stated, "The single most important reform that we could do in this state is one we have not done yet; that is changing the mapping process."

This is not solely a Democratic or Republican issue. Wisconsin should take a lesson from our neighbors in Iowa, who have been using a non-partisan redistricting process since 1981. In Iowa, a non-partisan agency draws district lines for state and a federal office without looking at any political data, such as past election results. This has resulted in districts that are more compact, follow county and municipal lines more closely, and have more competitive elections.

The maps shown below are hypothetical districts drawn by the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau, which took a similar approach to Iowa's model for redistricting for this exercise. Notice how the non-partisan map follows county lines much more than our current map. Also notice how the districts in the non-partisan map are compact and do not branch off into parts of the state to avoid or pick up voting blocks. The 17th district is a great example of this.




According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, had the hypothetical maps been in place for the 2012 elections, there would have been 28 Assembly seats that were toss-ups. However, the legislatively drawn districts resulted in only 11 toss-up seats in the 2012 election.



The 21st and 22nd Senate District provides a stark example of the how politically driven redistricting creates odd shaped districts that ignore county and municipal lines.

Some say that they do not want to transfer redistricting power to an unelected commission or agency because it would be unaccountable. However, under current redistricting it is impossible to hold elected officials accountable when so many of our elections are uncontested or uncompetitive. This also leads to more partisanship and polarization, as candidates who do not fear electoral retribution move the extremes and bipartisanship and compromise are exchanged for toeing the party line. Wisconsinites deserve a non-partisan redistricting system. As many have said, voters should be choosing their legislators, not the other way around.  

David Wright-Racette serves as policy organizer for Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization that is committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities, and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors, and civic engagement.

// WFU RELEASE: Cooperatives band together to educate youth during October Co-op Month
Thursday, October 30, 2014


Oct. 30, 2014

Contact: Danielle Endvick                              
715.723.5561 | cell 715.471.0398

Cooperatives band together to educate youth during October Co-op Month

Students from Westby High School learned about the rich history and social and economic impact of cooperatives Oct. 29 during the Vernon County Co-op Career Day at Vernon Electric Cooperative. The event was coordinated by Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) on behalf of the Vernon County Cooperative Association.

Westby Agriculture Instructor Erica Hoven brought 25 students to meet with representatives from 13 local cooperatives. The students were given an introduction to cooperatives and learned about each co-op's mission, history and membership.

The students also learned about scholarship and internship opportunities with the cooperatives and were offered short-term and long-term goals for preparing for potential co-op related careers.

"The presentations at the Co-op Career Day are personal and professional snapshots of the incredible diversity of cooperatives in Vernon County," said Cathy Statz, WFU education director. "Students are introduced to opportunities ranging from that first job to a lifelong career that could feature national - or even international - influence."

In anonymous follow-up evaluations, the students expressed surprise at what they'd learned:

  • "[The most important thing I learned was] all the neat ways co-ops have an impact on our town, and our world."
  • "I was surprised that co-ops around here reach out to other countries around the world."
  • "[The most important thing I learned was] all the neat ways co-ops have an impact on our town, and our world."
  • "[Co-ops are] very large influences in our community."
  • "I was surprised that co-ops around here reach out to other countries around the world."
  • "There are so many cooperatives in the US, and that surprises me."
  • "I learned that all the money that goes into a cooperative stays within the members and the community."
  • "I liked hearing about the make-up of cooperatives because I didn't know a lot about them."
  • "I was surprised to learn that cooperatives are everywhere - big and small!"

Viroqua Food Co-op and Westby Co-op Creamery graciously contributed to a lunch and snacks for the youth.

The students also toured the Vernon Electric Community Solar Farm, a 305-kilowatt clean power facility that was built this spring at the co-op's headquarters in Westby. Developed in partnership with the national community solar developer Clean Energy Collective (CEC), the 1,001-panel Solar Farm is the first community-owned solar facility in the state.   

Through CEC's model, any member of the cooperative can purchase panels from the shared farm - as few as one or enough to completely offset the energy demands of a home or business. Credit for the power produced is provided directly on members' monthly utility bills.

The Solar Farm became operational in June. Sheep are used to graze the area around the panels, keeping vegetation at bay in an eco-friendly way.

The career day was one of a number of special events Wisconsin Farmers Union attended this month to promote October Co-op Month. Summit Credit Union brought together co-ops for a Co-op Connection event Oct. 4 in Madison, which showcased cooperatives to nearly 3,000 attendees. Barron and Dunn County cooperative communities co-hosted October Co-op Month meals in Barron and Menomonie, respectively; each event traditionally reaches over 1,000 cooperative owners and community members. WFU had booth representation at all of these great events, as well as the Haunted Hustle fun run in Eau Claire, organized by Group Health Cooperative of Eau Claire.

While October Co-op month is an ideal time to spread the good word about cooperatives, WFU continues carrying the message of the value of cooperatives year-round. Groups interested in hosting an educational session on cooperatives are urged to contact WFU Education Director Cathy Statz at 715-723-5561 or cstatz@wisconsinfarmersunion.com.

Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization, is committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities, and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors, and civic engagement. For more information visit www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com.


// WFU RELEASE: WFU reacts to WTO decision on County-of-Origin Labeling
Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Oct. 21, 2014

Danielle Endvick, WFU Communications Director
715.723.5561 | cell 715.471.0398 | dendvick@wisconsinfarmersunion.com

Not the end for COOL
Farmers Union urges USDA to fix law that remains important to consumers and U.S. farmers

Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden spoke out today in support of Country-of-Origin labeling (COOL), following a decision by the World Trade Organization Oct. 20 on whether the law is unfair to foreign meat producers.

"COOL was not found to be non-compliant with WTO standards, but there are concerns about its current implementation," Von Ruden said.

He believes that COOL implementation rules can corrected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture administratively to address WTO concerns.

 "Farmers Union believes the USDA can make necessary changes to COOL while maintaining its integrity and its important role in bolstering consumer confidence and securing value for meat produced by America's farmers."

WTO found that COOL in its current amended form - amended after a similar ruling in 2012 - discriminates against the Canadian and Mexican livestock industries.

COOL is a labeling law that requires retailers, such as full-line grocery stores and club warehouse stores, notify their customers of the source of certain foods, including muscle cut and ground meats (beef, veal, pork, lamb, goat and chicken); fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts; and ginseng.

"Farmers Union has stood behind COOL from its inception, and we will continue to push forward," Von Ruden said. "We believe consumers want to know - and have the right to know - where their food originates."

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson reminded lawmakers this week of the strong support in rural America and among consumers in general for the popular labeling law. 

"American consumers want to know where their food comes from, and America's family farmers and ranchers are proud to provide that information," said Johnson. "Nothing about today's ruling changes that rudimentary fact."

A May 2013 public opinion poll found that more than 90 percent of consumers support COOL. "We are confident that given that level of support, Congress will reject all heavy-handed attempts to make legislative changes to this important labeling law," Johnson said.

Since its passage in 2002, COOL has been under constant attack both domestically - by trans-national meat processors - and internationally. On each domestic occasion, the rulings have come down in support of COOL. This most recent ruling is expected to take months to resolve, as the WTO process can be slow.

"Now is not the time to change the law," Von Ruden stressed. "Farmers Union looks forward to working with key players to see the WTO process through to an ultimate conclusion - one that is positive for our farmers and for consumers who have the right to shop with confidence, knowing where the food in their cart really comes from."

Since its founding in 1930, Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization, has been committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities, and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors, and civic engagement. For more information visit www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com.



// WFU Release: WFU Stands up to political attack
Tuesday, October 14, 2014

WFU stands up to political attack
By Darin Von Ruden | Wisconsin Farmers Union President

Recently, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, a Madison-based corporate lobbying group, mailed a series of postcards to Chippewa Valley voters attacking Wisconsin Farmers Union member Jeff Peck for his leadership in the Chippewa County Farmers Union. These mailings not only attack Peck, who is running for State Assembly, but also claim that WFU supports policies that hurt the state of Wisconsin. Nothing could be further from the truth.

WFU and its members have been working to support family farms and rural communities across the state since 1930. We support policies that promote family agriculture and sound conservation, organize field days and educational events for farmers, provide leadership in developing cooperative business enterprises, and operate a summer youth camp on Lake Wissota that served over 350 local children last year alone.

We are proud of our efforts. We are also proud to provide a voice for farmers and rural citizens to balance the power and influence that corporate money plays in today's policy making process. Because of this, we would be remiss in neglecting to address WMC's baseless attacks.

These attacks, which criticize WFU and our members for a position we took in 2010 supporting the Clean Energy Jobs Act, draw from a deeply flawed and methodologically dubious report released in late 2009 by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. Though the proposed bill that resulted from the Clean Energy Jobs Act hasn't been actively debated in the legislature since 2010, WFU stands behind the position of support that we took four years ago. According to a study released by The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in early 2010, Wisconsinites would have seen energy savingsof 1.4 billion dollars if the legislature had passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act substitute bill. The bill would also have led to a decrease in average residential electricity bills over a 10-year span, providing financial relief to Wisconsin citizens.

Moreover, we stand by our current positions supporting renewable energy, which our members believe is the right path forward for farmers and for the state of Wisconsin. For example, WFU supports the Clean Energy Choice Bill, a proposal that would make it easier for farmers and other small businesses to install renewable energy systems without prohibitively high installation costs or the fear of legal retribution from utility monopolies.

Another great aspect of Clean Energy Choice? It would advance renewable energy in Wisconsin without costing taxpayers a dime. Unfortunately, WMC and its allies have fought against Clean Energy Choice tooth and nail, despite the fact that it would create jobs and enhance profitable renewable energy opportunities.

So, why is WMC coming after Wisconsin's family farmers and trying to influence our local elections? They want to eliminate the rights of citizens and their local governments to address basic development decisions. Time and time again, WMC has fought to keep control out of the hands of the majority of Wisconsinites.

The last legislative session's record speaks for itself. On two occasions this year, WMC pushed to pass bills that would have undermined the ability of local governments to manage the development of frac sand mining operations. These bills would have stripped away the right of local governments to balance development with protecting property values, the environment and the health of their citizens. WFU stood with the citizens of Wisconsin in support of local control and in opposition to these bills.

WMC's assault on the rights of the people of Wisconsin doesn't stop there. They also supported bills that would have made it harder for farmers harmed by a utility company's stray voltage to seek compensation and easier for big money lobby groups to hide their campaign activities from voters. Again, WFU stood with family farmers and the people of Wisconsin and opposed these bills.

Since our inception, WFU has been committed to building a sustainable economic system in which family farms, rural communities and all citizens of Wisconsin have the opportunity to thrive and prosper. To say otherwise is both misleading and dishonest. We think the people of Wisconsin are smart enough to figure out the real facts: that Wisconsin Farmers Union stands with farmers and the citizens of Wisconsin, not big business and monopolies. It was true at our founding in 1930, it was true in 2010, and it remains true today.

// WFU stands up to WMC attack
Wednesday, October 01, 2014

In a recent campaign publication, the corporate lobbying group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce attacked Wisconsin Farmers Union and our members for the position that we took in 2010 supporting the Clean Energy Jobs Act.


Frankly, WMC's attack is both flailing and inaccurate.  Their so-called "facts" about the bill are drawn from a study by a biased think tank that didn't even analyze the actual bill - a bill, by the way, that hasn't been actively debated in the legislature since 2010.


Nonetheless, we stand behind the position that we took in 2010 supporting the Clean Energy Jobs Act, and our statement in support of the bill is below. 


Moreover, we stand by our current positions supporting renewable energy, which we and our members believe is the right path forward for farmers and the state of Wisconsin.  For example, Wisconsin Farmers Union supports the Clean Energy Choice bill, a proposal that would make it easier for farmers and other small businesses to install renewable energy systems without prohibitively high installation costs or fear of legal retribution from utility monopolies.  Another great aspect of Clean Energy Choice?  It would advance renewable energy in Wisconsin without costing taxpayers a dime. 


Too bad that prominent members of WMC like Alliant Energy have fought against Clean Energy Choice tooth and nail.  We think the citizens of Wisconsin are smart enough to figure out the real facts:  that Wisconsin Farmers Union stands with farmers and the citizens of Wisconsin, not big business and the monopolies.  It was true at our founding in 1930, it was true in 2010, and it's still true today. 






Statement from Wisconsin Farmers Union on the 2010 Clean Energy Jobs Act:


It's time to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The Assembly has scheduled a vote on the bill and now the Senate should schedule the vote.


We know Wisconsin agriculture can benefit from new clean energy income such as manure digesters, wind turbines, solar power.  This bill enhances clean energy opportunities for farmers in at least four ways:


1)      First, it funds grants and loans for small-scale, distributed generation facilities. The value of this program is estimated at $55 million, and these are renewable energy investments that will stay within the state of Wisconsin.  Manure digesters are identified as a priority in this program.


2)      Second, the bill enhances the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) To 25 percent of our power coming from renewable sources by 2025.  This will create more demand for farm-based renewable electricity such as manure digesters, wind, solar and biomass power. 


3)      Third, the bill creates an additional incentive for power companies to buy energy from small-scale renewable projects of 2 Megawatts or less - precisely the kind of projects that would be found on a family farm.


4)      Fourth, the bill creates an Energy crop reserve program to help farmers start growing today the crops that will become tomorrow's biofuels. 



In addition to helping farmers start new energy projects, the Clean Energy Jobs Act will also help farmers reduce their current energy bills through Energy Efficiency.  Some Wisconsin Farmers Union families have already lowered their energy bills by taking advantage of the state's Energy Audit program, and even more would be able to do so if this legislation gets passed. 


According to a study published just last week by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, Wisconsin will see energy savings of 1.4 Billion dollars if the legislature passes the Clean Energy Jobs Act substitute bill.  Average residential electricity bills would decrease over the next ten years because of and energy efficiency gains under the Clean Energy Jobs Act substitute amendment.  On the other hand, the do nothing business as usual approach would raise electricity bills by 6.4% 2025.  The cost of doing nothing is far greater than the cost of this legislation.  The fact is, we can't afford to wait.  

// WFU Release: WFU Leadership Couple wraps up year-long experience with trip to D.C.
Thursday, September 18, 2014

WFU leadership couple wraps up year-long experience with trip to D.C. Wisconsin Farmers Union members Jim and Lisa Soyring, who farm in Maple, were among nearly 250 fellow farmers and ranchers from across the country who recently met in Washington, D.C., for the National Farmers Union annual Fall Fly-In Sept. 7-10.

Among some of the policies that the Fly-In participants highlighted during visits with legislators were the importance of Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), rail issues in the Midwest and International Trade Agreements.

The Soyrings participated in the Fly-In as their final event through the Emerging Leaders Program sponsored by WFU and Farmers Union Enterprises. The FUE program is committed to developing and empowering future Farmers Union leaders in a five-state region, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. Each state selects one "Couple of the Year" and provides training and meetings focused on building leadership skills and education on the regional and national Farmers Union organizations. 

"We were proud to represent Wisconsin Farmers Union through this whole experience," Lisa Soyring said. "It was truly an amazing and wonderful opportunity, and we feel blessed to have been a part of this program."

Throughout the year, FUE provided the leadership couples with opportunities to travel to leadership events and conferences in Bozeman, Montana; Minot, North Dakota; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Bayfield and Washington D.C.

"It was a great experience to meet new people, talk about different views and ways of farming and an opportunity to help me progress and learn new leadership skills," Jim Soyring said.

The Fall Fly-In also gave the couple an up-close look at the political process that unfolds on Capitol Hill.

"With the program specifics in the new farm bill being finalized, COOL and RFS legislation being attacked, and rail delays increasing in parts of the Midwest, it is critical Congress hears from constituents directly affected by these issues," said WFU President Darin Von Ruden.  "Discussions with members of Congress are made possible through the Fly-In, and it was great to see so many farmers and ranchers seize the opportunity."

The Soyrings operate their 920-acre Douglas County farm with their four children. They run 200 head of beef cattle and also rent an additional 400 crop acres. They are members of the Amnicon Farmers Union chapter and are actively involved with their community.

"We love that Wisconsin Farmer's Union is a grassroots organization and is dedicated to family farm agriculture," Lisa Soyring said.

Also representing Wisconsin on the NFU Fly-In were: Darin Von Ruden, Dennis Rosen, Larry Strangstalien, David Wright-Racette, Zachary Herrnstadt, Kara O'Connor, Patty Edelburg, Becky Olson, Michael Slattery, David Rudolph, Rick Adamski, Craig Myhre, Kriss Marion and Chris Holman.

Photo caption: Douglas County farmers Jim and Lisa Soyring met with Rep. Sean Duffy, left, at the congressman's office in Washington D.C. during the National Farmers Union Fall Fly-In earlier this month.

Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization, is committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities, and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors, and civic engagement. For more information visit www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com.


// WFU Release: Michigan water policy advocate to speak at October WFU event
Thursday, September 18, 2014

Michigan water policy advocate to speak at October WFU event

On Sunday, Oct. 12, Wisconsin Farmers Union invites members of the public to enjoy lunch and an informative presentation by James Clift, policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council, entitled "Making Waves:  Michigan's Forward-Thinking Approach to Managing Groundwater Resources."  The event, which will take place at Camp Helen Brachman overlooking Pickerel Lake in Almond, is free and open to the public. 

"We are very excited that an expert on Michigan's innovative approach to groundwater management is taking the time to come to Wisconsin," said Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden.

Clift, an attorney who has lectured at universities and law schools throughout Michigan and previously served as an environmental policy analyst with the Michigan State Senate, will describe how Michigan crafted a system for permitting high-capacity wells that balances the needs of farming, municipal use, fish and wildlife, and recreation.

The timing of Clift's visit to Wisconsin is fortuitous, as farmers, legislators, and local officials are evaluating the impact of the recent decision in the Richfield Dairy case. Earlier this month, an Administrative Law Judge ruled in the case that the DNR was required to take cumulative impacts into account when issuing high-capacity well permits for the dairy.

"As we go forward into what may be a new era of groundwater management, we should definitely be looking to see what other states have done," said Von Ruden. "We believe that farmers can and should be part of a long-term solution to managing groundwater resources. We especially encourage farmers to join us on October 12 and be part of the conversation about the future of one of Wisconsin's most valuable resources."

What: Lunch and presentation by James Clift, policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council,  "Making Waves:  Michigan's Forward-Thinking Approach to Managing Groundwater Resources."
When:  1 p.m. luncheon with program to follow, Sunday, Oct. 12. 
Where:  Camp Helen Brachman, 9341 Asbury Drive, Almond.
Registration: Please RSVP to Diane Tiry, 715-723-5561 or dtiry@wisconsinfarmersunion.com, for meal planning purposes.

Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization, is committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities, and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors, and civic engagement. For more information visit www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com.


// WFU Release: Farmers Union & U.S. Cattlemen call for reform of Beef Checkoff
Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Farmers Union and U.S. Cattlemen call for reform of Beef Checkoff
The National Farmers Union and United States Cattlemen's Association banded together this week in support of an overhaul of the Beef Checkoff program that they say is long overdue. Both groups have expressed frustration with the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group, which they helped establish back in 2011.

The NFU board of directors voted last week to withdraw from the working group. The USCA has also withdrawn, by a unanimous vote by their board of directors.

Darin Von Ruden, Wisconsin Farmers Union President and a NFU board member, joined in the call for checkoff reform. "Beef farmers deserve a decent program that aligns with their interests," Von Ruden said. "It is time for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to react to producers' demands to reform this system."

NFU President Roger Johnson explained why groups were calling for direct action on reform, noting, "After three years of pushing for real reforms in the Beef Checkoff program, NFU has decided that the process has become a bridge to nowhere and a waste of time and resources. The working group was designed to bring together vested parties from across the beef industry and to attempt to reach a consensus on substantial reforms that would make the checkoff a stronger, more effective tool for the beef industry. Sadly, it has become clear that in reality, there is no willingness from key players within the group to allow real reforms to take place. NFU remains willing and eager to engage with others who are interested in reforming the beef checkoff, such that it operates in a manner like other checkoff programs."

The two groups originally requested the Secretary write a new Beef Checkoff Order under the 1996 Commodity Promotion Act but were told the Secretary would not step in until the two groups had exhausted all possibilities of getting the major beef industry stakeholders to work through the divisive issues surrounding the checkoff. The working group consisted of the American Farm Bureau Federation, American National Cattlewomen, Cattlemen's Beef Board, Federation of State Beef Councils, Livestock Marketing Association, Meat Importers Council of America, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Livestock Producers Association, National Milk Producers Federation, NFU and USCA. 

Three years of meetings culminated in a memorandum of understanding that was designed to reflect the changes that the groups had found some degree of consensus on. It was the intention of the working group that they would not move forward and sign the memorandum until it was approved by the governing body of each organization involved - a task that was not undertaken by all parties.

Secretary Vilsack has related publicly his frustration with the lack of substantial progress being made by the BCEWG and said he is considering using his own authority to make changes to the program. Both USCA and NFU feel the same frustration and have voted to not support the proposed Memorandum of Understanding drafted by the working group.


Farmers Union believes the following reforms are necessary:

  • The Cattlemen's Beef Board must have the authority to carry out checkoff projects on its own, similar to other checkoff oversight boards.
  • The CBB must be allowed to enter into checkoff contracts with non-policy organizations and private companies, such as ad agencies and public relations firms, in order to prevent policy-driven organizations from using checkoff dollars to fund overhead for political activity.
  • The beef checkoff must be completely refundable.
  • A referendum on the continuation of the beef checkoff must occur every five years.

Von Ruden noted that one of the problem's with the current checkoff is that the lion's share of checkoff dollars - between 90 to 99 percent - go directly to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a group that in recent years has become more of a voice for the meat packing industry than family farmers and ranchers. While most cattlemen support Country-of-Origin Labeling, NCBA sued the USDA to stop implementation of the rule. NCBA also opposed the Farm Bill, which was supported by nearly every farm group in the nation.

"It just doesn't make sense for us to continue working with a group that isn't looking out for the family farmer," Von Ruden said.

"Cattle producers deserve an enhanced checkoff program now, not a decade from now," USCA President Jon Wooster said in a recent statement. "The Secretary's remarks concerning the checkoff signify the Administration's commitment to seeing this process through and enacting substantial reforms … USCA is hopeful of achieving meaningful checkoff reform and has been since we first initiated these discussions with National Farmers Union three years ago".


// WFU Release: NFU Honors Champions for Family Agriculture with Golden Triangle Award
Thursday, September 11, 2014

Contact: Danielle Endvick
715.723.5561 | cell 715.471-0398

NFU Honors Champions for Family Agriculture with Golden Triangle Award

National Farmers Union recently announced the recipients of the Golden Triangle Award, the organization's highest legislative honor. Among this year's honorees were Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Mark Pocan from Wisconsin.

The annual award is presented to members of Congress who have demonstrated leadership and who support policies that benefit America's family farmers, ranchers, fishermen and rural communities.

"Recipients of the Golden Triangle Award have been strong advocates for family farmers and ranchers, and support similar principles and policies as Farmers Union," said NFU President Roger Johnson. "We are pleased to honor those who have proven to be true allies of our organization and our members across the country."

This year's Golden Triangle recipients were selected for their leadership on a variety of issues important to family farmers, including votes on the farm bill and related amendments. The Golden Triangle Award is based on NFU's symbol - a triangle with "legislation" and "cooperation" forming the sides and "education" the base. The Golden Triangle Awards have been presented every year since 1988.

Baldwin sponsored a successful amendment to the Senate Appropriations bill aimed at ensuring that "Buy American" provisions in U.S. government contracts will not be preempted by international trade agreements. She has also been a champion for meat and poultry market fairness rules proposed by the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). 

Pocan was recognized for his leadership on trade issues, Country-of-Origin Labeling, the Renewable Fuels Standard and farm bill dairy issues.

"We are proud of the work that Congressman Mark Pocan and Senator Tammy Baldwin have done on behalf Wisconsin's family farmers and ranchers," Von Ruden said.

Cutline: Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden presented the Golden Triangle Award to Rep. Mark Pocan this week in Washington, D.C. The award, which was also given to Senator Tammy Baldwin, is the highest legislative honor bestowed by the National Farmers Union.

// WFU Release: WFU Hires Danielle Endvick as Communication Director
Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Wisconsin Farmers Union welcomes new communications director


Danielle Endvick has signed on as communications director for the Wisconsin Farmers Union. Endvick, who formerly worked for The Country Today newspaper, will replace Katy Phillips, who has gone on to help coordinate campaign communications for Assembly Democratic candidate Jeff Smith of Eau Claire.

Endvick brings with her a passion for rural life and an array of experiences from her years in print journalism. The Chippewa County native grew up on a 32-cow dairy farm near Holcombe, where she was very active in managing the herd. Her family jokes that she was milking cows from the moment she could reach the pipeline. Her love of agriculture led her to UW-River Falls, where she pursued a degree in marketing communications with an agricultural emphasis and a minor in animal science. She graduated in 2009.

After completing an internship with The Country Today in 2008, she went on to serve as a regional editor for the newspaper, covering west-central Wisconsin. Her writing, photography and page design earned her recognition from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Commercial Deer and Elk Farmers Association and Whitetails of Wisconsin.

Endvick, who will work out of the Chippewa Falls state office, currently resides on a small hobby farm north of Boyd with her husband and two young sons. They keep a few chickens, horses and hounds.

 "I've had the pleasure of getting to know some of the faces of Wisconsin Farmers Union through my years in the media, and I've always felt a sort of kinship to the organization and its mission of being 'United to Grow Family Agriculture.' " Endvick said. "It's a time of great changes in the agriculture industry; I'm excited to be a part of a group that is working so hard to make sure the path ahead benefits the family farm and rural communities."

She looks forward to getting to know and learning from WFU members and putting her skills to use promoting an organization with values that closely parallel her own.

"We have long respected Danielle's work as an Ag journalist, and we are very excited to have her join our Farmers Union team," said WFU Executive Director Tom Quinn. "​Danielle brings a strong journalism and communications background to Farmers Union, and equally important, she shares our members' commitment to the values and importance of family farming." 

Endvick can be reached at dendvick@wisconsinfarmersunion.com or 715-471-0398.


// WFU Release: WFU President Cautions Against Free Trade's False Promises
Tuesday, August 12, 2014

For immediate release

August 12, 2014

Contact: Darin Von Ruden - 608-852-4272


Wisconsin Farmers Union President Cautions Against Free Trade's False Promises

Wisconsin Farmers Union President and Westby dairy farmer Darin Von Ruden attended yesterday's roundtable on agriculture and international trade hosted by U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and U.S. Representative Ron Kind (WI-3) in Melrose, Wisconsin.  Von Ruden shared the following observations following the meeting: 

"I left yesterday's meeting with Ambassador Froman and Congressman Kind asking myself, 'haven't we learned anything from the past 20 years of failed U.S. trade policy?'  Behind the rosy projections about the benefits of free trade, history presents us with the cold hard facts.  The 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been devastating for farmers in the U.S., and we are headed down the same path with the current Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) proposals.  

The sad legacy of NAFTA is that while agricultural exports have increased in the years since the deal was signed in 1993, agricultural imports from Canada and Mexico to the U.S. skyrocketed.  As a result, the U.S. has an overall trade deficit with Canada and Mexico in many agricultural goods.  In the first seven years of NAFTA, the U.S. went from having a $21 million trade surplus in cattle and beef to a $152 million deficit.  The trade deficit for fresh and frozen vegetables grew from $438 million in 1995 to more than $1 billion in 1999.  In the dairy sector, the trade deficit ballooned from $416 million to more than $1 billion in the same time period.[1] 

This trade deficit phenomenon is generally true for the countries with which the U.S. has free trade agreements.  Although U.S. agriculture has a substantial net trade surplus with the world as a whole, U.S. agriculture is running a net trade deficit with countries that have Free Trade Agreements with the U.S.[2] 

Prices to U.S. farmers have also suffered because of ill-conceived free trade deals.  During the first seven years of NAFTA's existence, corn prices in the U.S. fell 33%, wheat prices dropped 42%, soybeans prices decreased by 34%, and rice prices fell 42%.[3]  Since NAFTA was implemented, 300,000 family farms in the U.S. went out of business, and overall, net farm incomes are down 13 percent.[4]  NAFTA has proven to be anything but the boon for farmers that free trade cheerleaders promised in 1993.  Nonetheless, Congressman Kind and Ambassador Froman used the same arguments in favor of the TPP and T-TIP today as were offered to push through NAFTA in 1993.   Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  

In addition to driving down prices, poorly-crafted free trade deals also drive down wages and workplace standards.  Given a level playing field, U.S. farmers and manufacturers can compete with the best on an international scale.  However, we all know that the worldwide playing field is not level.  For example, the average wage in Vietnam is $1 per hour.  There is a real danger that the TPP will pave the way for multinational companies to move U.S. jobs overseas, where wages are lower, and health, safety, and environmental regulations are more lax.  On the flip side, trade agreements can put businesses in the U.S. in the position of having to comply with regulations set by foreign governments.  What recourse does a U.S. cheesemaker have if the Italian government can dictate through a trade agreement which cheese can be labeled as "mozzarella"?   

Another concern from the point of view of Wisconsin dairy farmers is that the TPP could throw our doors wide open to unregulated imports of Milk Protein Concentrates.  MPC's, even though they are not regulated as a food product, still find their way into cheese, protein bars, and numerous other food products made in the United States.  Imported MPC's displace demand for milk produced on U.S. farms.  The National Milk Producers Federation estimates that U.S. dairy farmers will lose a cumulative $20 billion over the first 10 years of the TPP if the agreement requires to the U.S. to fully phase out restrictions on dairy imports from New Zealand. 

We have repeatedly called on Representative Kind to look at both the pluses and minuses entailed in international trade deals, to no avail - he seems to see only the plus side of the equation.  Representative Kind represents plenty of Wisconsin Farmers Union members, but on the issue of trade he is not representing us very well."  


[1] Public Citizen, "Down on the Farm:  NAFTA's Seven-Years War on Farmers and Ranchers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico," June 26, 2001, page 10, available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/ACFF2.PDF

[2] National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson's Testimony before the U.S. House Ag Committee, May 12, 2011, http://www.nfu.org/media-galleries/document-library/func-startdown/168/

[3] "Down on the Farm," page 13.  See also Daryll E. Ray, "Mexico and Corn," Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, Sept. 5, 2003, available at http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/161.html

[4]Dustin Ensinger, "NAFTA Redux?," Economy In Crisis:  America's Economic Report, Dec. 30, 2010, available http://www.economyincrisis.org/content/nafta-redux

// WFU Release: WFU Hires Zachary Herrnstadt as Government Relations Associate
Friday, August 08, 2014

For Immediate Release

August 8, 2014

Contact: Kara O'Connor




Wisconsin Farmers Union is pleased to introduce Zachary Herrnstadt, who will be joining the WFU staff as a Government Relations Associate. Working closely with Government Relations Director Kara O'Connor and Policy Organizer David Wright-Racette, Zachary will be communicating WFU policy positions and priorities to legislators and agency officials as well as discussing state and federal legislative developments with WFU members. 

Herrnstadt is from Ames, Iowa where tending a backyard vegetable garden with his father sparked his lifelong interest in how food makes its way from the farm to the table. 

After graduating from Iowa State University with bachelor's degrees in English and Environmental Studies, Herrnstadt spent six years working for natural food cooperatives in Iowa and Minnesota. He recently completed a master's degree in Community Food and Agricultural Systems from Michigan State University, where his research focused on exploring consumer perceptions of bird management practices utilized on fruit farms as well as communicating those perceptions to farmers through outreach efforts. Herrnstadt is excited to be a part of WFU, where he will work to advance policies crafted to help family farms and rural communities thrive. 

"Zachary will be a great addition to the WFU policy team, and we are very pleased to have him on board," said Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden. "His diverse work experience in our food and agricultural system, from working with farmers to retailers to end consumers, gives him unique insights that will serve him well in this position."   

Zachary's first day with Wisconsin Farmers Union was August 5, 2014. 

Wisconsin Farmers Union is a member driven organization committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers and rural communities through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors and civic engagement.

// WFU Release: WFU Hires David Wright-Racette as Policy Organizer
Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014

For Immediate Release
July 10, 2014
Contact: Kara O'Connor


Wisconsin Farmers Union is pleased to introduce David Wright-Racette who will be joining the WFU staff as the Policy Organizer. This is a newly created position within the organization, and David will work closely with Government Relations Director Kara O'Connor, the Government Relations Associate, and Membership Coordinator Deb Jakubek. David will coordinate the development and implementation of WFU outreach and organizing efforts on key projects and issues while working closely with WFU members and county chapters to support engagement at the local level.

David is from Prairie Farm, Wisconsin and grew up surrounded by agriculture as his parents own and operate Spring Hill Community Farm, a CSA that markets mainly to the Twin Cities area.  He attended the University-Wisconsin Madison where he received his bachelor's degree in political science. While there, he interned for State Senator Bob Jauch and he is excited to use the knowledge he gained to advocate for WFU policies and help organize WFU members and chapters around issues facing farmers and rural residents.

"We are very excited to welcome David to the WFU staff," said Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden.  "His energy and his experience in rural Wisconsin will be a great asset to Farmers Union.  David is deeply committed to ensuring that rural residents have a voice in the issues and policies that affect their communities and livelihoods."  

Wisconsin Farmers Union is a member driven organization committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers and rural communities through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors and civic engagement. For more information, visit their website at www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com


// WFU Release: Wisconsin Farmers Union members chosen for national Beginning Farmers Institute
Thursday, June 12, 2014

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2014
Contact: Katy Phillips


Wisconsin Farmers Union members chosen for national Beginning Farmers Institute

Chippewa Falls, WI - Wisconsin Farmers Union is pleased to announce that two of its members were chosen to participate in National Farmers Union's Beginning Farmer Institute. The WFU members selected for the program are Chris Holman and Kriss Marion. 

Institute participants will meet several times over the next year to learn about financial planning, farm management and farmer-owned cooperatives. In addition, they will help determine the agenda based on what they have identified as important to their operation. Topics include marketing, understanding U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, renewable energy, recording keeping, farm transitioning and understanding the local food system. 

Chris Holman and his partner Maria Davis co-own Nami Moon Farms outside of Stevens Point. They are currently in their fifth season of operations. In addition to farming, Chris is a lifetime member of the Wisconsin Farmers Union who serves on the USDA Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers, the Wisconsin Local Food Network Board of Directors and Farmshed's Farmer Advisory Board. In his spare time, he teaches Arabic and Middle Eastern Geography at UW-Stevens Point. 

"I am really honored to have been selected to participate in the Beginning Farmers Institute," said Holman. "I am excited about having the opportunity to become a better farmer, to be more involved in the Farmers Union and to help beginning farmers, like myself, get going and stay going."

Kriss Marion owns and manages Circle M Market Farm just outside of Blanchardville. She is a former journalist and homeschool mom who, nine years ago, moved from Chicago with her husband and four kids to find beauty and adventure in the beautiful Driftless Area of Southwest Wisconsin. Starting with five goats, eight sheep and three jobs at other organic farms, Kriss slowly built her CSA program to serve 150 families in and around Madison. She also sells wool goods and teaches children and adults to spin and felt, both on the farm and at area schools. This year, Kriss is shrinking the CSA back down to 50 families and adding a field-to-table dinner for members in order to re-build the "community" aspect of the program. She and her husband, Shannon, recent empty nesters, are also opening their home for bed-and-breakfast farm stays starting this fall. "Play with your food!" is the farm motto and an apt one, since they both love to eat. 

"I'm so delighted to have this opportunity to be a part of the NFU's Beginning Farmer Institute. I take every chance I can to learn and grow, and I am especially excited about what the Farmers Union has to offer me. In recent years, I have become convinced that the future of the local food movement lies in building allies within our communities and with our fellow farmers. I think the Farmers Union does a terrific job with this - both through their emphasis on being engaged with legislators and with their history in the co-op movement. I'm so excited to learn about both, and to network with talented farmers who are doing lots of cool things," said Marion.

The selected individuals from across the nation range from cattle ranchers and grain farmers to those growing for farmers markets to urban farmers. The program is sponsored in part by Farm Credit, CHS Foundation, FUI Foundation and the NFU Foundation.



// WFU Release: Wisconsin Farmers Union Urges Citizens to Vote YES on April 1st
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

For Immediate Release
March 25, 2014
Contact: Katy Phillips

Wisconsin Farmers Union Urges Citizens to Vote YES on April 1st

Chippewa Falls, WI - Wisconsin Farmers Union urges voters in the communities of Delavan, Edgerton, Elkhorn, Lake Mills, Waukesha and Wauwatosa, Belleville, DeForest, Shorewood, Waunakee, Whitefish Bay, Waterloo and Windsor to VOTE YES on April 1st

Voters in those communities will have the chance to approve a ballot referendum stating that only human beings, not unions or corporations, are entitled to free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution, and that money is not equivalent to speech. Similar referenda have passed with strong majorities by voters in 17 other Wisconsin towns and cities in recent years. The purpose of these referenda is to counter the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign spending.    

"Citizens of all political stripes - Republicans, Democrats, and independents - agree that we need to curb the corrupting influence of money in politics," said Wisconsin Farmers Union Executive Director Tom Quinn. "Voting YES for the ballot referenda on April 1 will send a clear message that we the people are ready to take back our democracy." 


// WFU Release: WFU Attends National Farmers Union Annual Convention
Thursday, March 13, 2014

For Immediate Release
March 13, 2014
Contact: Katy Phillips

Wisconsin Farmers Union Attends National Farmers Union Annual Convention

Santa Fe, NM - Members, staff and officers of Wisconsin Farmers Union attended the 112th National Farmers Union Convention in Santa Fe, New Mexico last weekend, March 8- March 11. The four-day event drew nearly 600 family farmers, ranchers and fishermen from across the country and featured a number of high-profile speakers.

"The national convention is one of the cornerstones of our calendar each year," said Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden. " "Though I was disappointed to have lost my bid to be National Farmers Union Vice President, I was truly honored to have been on the ballot with Roger Noonan, President of New England Farmers Union and Donn Teske, President of Kansas Farmers Union. It was a privilege to run with these fine leaders."

Highlights of the convention included a keynote address by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack; a panel comprised of Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar, New Mexico Director/Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte, and Wyoming Director of Agriculture Jason Fearneyhough; and educational sessions on cooperatives, farmer veterans and the future of Social Security and Medicare.  Through the fifth annual "Evening for Education," approximately $40,000 was raised in support of National Farmers Union Foundation's educational programming.

"Delegates took the policy adoption process very seriously, considering the needs of family farmers, ranchers, fishermen and rural residents," said Johnson. "Policy discussion was thoughtful and thorough, and it is an honor to represent the views of our members."

Johnson was elected to his third full term as president of the organization and Donn Teske, Kansas Farmers Union president, was elected the new vice president, winning a tight race with Wisconsin Farmers Union Vice President Darin Von Ruden in the second round of voting. The president and vice president are elected separately to two-year terms.

Delegates also adopted eight special orders of business recognizing 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming and setting priorities for implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill, immigration reform, trade policy, animal disease protection and research, the Renewable Fuel Standard, reform of the beef checkoff, and budget sequestration.

Click here to read the special orders. Full text of the adopted policy manual will be available soon at www.NFU.org.


// WFU Release: Wisconsin Farmers Union Farm and Rural Lobby Day a Success
Friday, March 07, 2014

For Immediate Release
March 7, 2014
Contact: Katy Phillips

Wisconsin Farmers Union Farm and Rural Lobby Day a Success

Chippewa Falls, WI - On Tuesday, March 4, farmers and rural residents from across the state came to Madison to share their views with their Senators and Representatives. "As the legislative session draws to a close, we want to make sure that our elected officials are aware of our views on issues of importance to farmers and rural residents," said Darin Von Ruden.

Lobby Day participants shared their concerns about Senate Bill 302 that would lessen protection of groundwater for future generations and SB 632 that would significantly strip local control of land use, particularly as it singles out sand mining as an industry and exempts it from laws that apply to other land uses. Participants also encouraged lawmakers to support funding for rural education by reinstating two-thirds state funding of public schools and asked legislators to oppose AB 225 that doubles campaign contribution limits. They also urged legislative support for a statewide ballot resolution allowing voters to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the devastating Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

Kriss Marion, a first time lobby day participant, said, "Lobby Day was an empowering and inspiring event. I learned a lot and was pleased to see how engaged and genuinely interested the legislative staff seemed to be. I have a new appreciation for our democracy." 


// WFU Release: Enough is Enough: Meat Processors Holding Farm Bill Hostage Over Country of Origin Labeling (COOL)
Tuesday, January 28, 2014

For Immediate Release
January 28, 2014
Contact: Katy Phillips

Enough is Enough: Meat Processors Holding Farm Bill Hostage Over
Country of Origin Labeling (COOL)

Chippewa Falls, WI - While nearly all U.S. farm organizations are applauding yesterday's farm bill agreement by Senate and House conferees, the major meat processors announced today that they will be working to defeat the bill.  This comes after the failure of their last minute effort to sneak provisions into the farm bill that would have blocked implementation of country-of-origin labeling for meat.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) held a news conference with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) today to call for defeat of the farm bill because it does not change requirements for country-of-origin labeling of red meat. NCBA President Scott George said his group was willing to bring down the bill over COOL even though the bill would provide critical aid to livestock producers who have experienced disasters. For a recent example, one has to look no further than the early blizzard in 2013 that killed thousands of cattle in South Dakota.

The 2014 Final Farm Bill Conference Report contains a number of provisions to help our nation's livestock producers manage risk, improve production, and meet challenges such as environmental regulations and disease. This bill provides nearly $7 billion in funding for ranchers through programs including nearly $4 billion in assistance to producers over the next 10 years for livestock disaster. The bill gives greater access to Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for grazing, and infusions of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding to states that were the hardest hit and used the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) to help farmers and ranchers rehabilitate land and provide access to water for livestock. 

The 2014 Farm Bill also provides USDA research and extension programs for important research and information on genetics, feed efficiency and diseases that are critical to our nations livestock producers, provides a 10 year baseline for the REAP program which helps livestock farmers and ranchers increase profit margins through reduced energy costs, and provides mandatory funding in the Market Access Program which helps producers and trade groups establish new relationships and foreign markets export promotion. 

Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden said "The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which claims to represent livestock owners, is willing to throw away all of these gains for farmers and ranchers in exchange for provisions that would block implementation of Country of Origin Labeling. It's time for NCBA to get the message: enough is enough. Country of Origin Labeling has been the law of the land since 2008, it has widespread approval from farmers, ranchers, and consumers, and it's time for NCBA and its packer/processor friends to quit throwing up roadblocks to its enforcement." 

"It is shameful that NCBA would trade all of the positives in the Farm Bill for livestock producers in exchange for their anti-COOL provision, when livestock is a big winner in the 2014 Farm Bill," said Von Ruden. "We've been waiting for a Farm Bill for two years now and it is especially outrageous that meat processors are willing to hold the entire bill hostage over COOL.

"Wisconsin Farmers Union asks the conferees and all members of Congress to listen to the voices of family farmers, ranchers and consumers, and to support a conference committee report that makes improvements to livestock programs and stays strong on COOL and GIPSA. It is time to get this farm bill done."



// WFU Release: A Successful 83rd Annual Convention for Wisconsin Farmers Union
Monday, January 27, 2014

For Immediate Release
January 27, 2014
Contact: Katy Phillips

A Successful 83rd Annual Convention for Wisconsin Farmers Union

Wisconsin Rapids, WI - About 250 delegates and guests gathered for the Wisconsin Farmers Union 83rd Annual State Convention this past weekend, January 24-26, 2014 at Hotel Mead in Wisconsin Rapids. The theme of this year's convention, United to Grow Family Agriculture: Celebrating the International Year of Family Farming, focused on the important connection between farmers and their communities. The convention agenda engaged delegates in exploring the growing diversity of farms in Wisconsin, both large and small, and emphasized the organization's commitment to family farming as a core value. Delegates also discussed the importance of farmers working cooperatively with their rural neighbors and communities to assure a sustainable and prosperous future.

WFU President Darin Von Ruden welcomed attendees to the convention and provided a summary of  WFU's 2013 year-in-review, including work done on key state and federal policy issues. He also shared updates on several new WFU cooperative development initiatives, including the start-up of the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, and the first stage of organizing a community wind energy project.

Von Ruden also shared that he is running for the position of Vice President of the National Farmers Union. The convention provided a motion of unanimous support from Wisconsin Farmers Union's board and delegates. The election will take place at the National Farmers Union Annual Convention in Santa Fe, March 8-12.

Attendees were also welcomed by Portage/Wood County Farmers Union President Lisa Shirek and State Assembly Representative Scott Krug, and heard from WFU member Jill Berke, St Croix County, about her experience at the Fall Fly-In to DC.

The convention keynote speaker was Larry Mitchell, Administrator of the USDA Grain, Inspection, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). His talk provided an interesting history lesson on the development of federal policy regarding inspections. Pointing out why this regulation has been necessary, and the dangers of a current push to roll them back in the current Farm Bill debate, Mitchell also called for forward implementation of Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations. In reference to the current legal obstruction of COOL, he said "If they can find room to put "new & improved" on a box of Wheaties that hasn't changed in 40 years, I think a little room can be found for a country of origin label."

Ironically, a letter from the meatpacking industry was sent to Congress today, Monday, January 27, 2014. The letter calls for Congress to gut the Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) law. It also proposes to dismantle protections for producers under the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). Finally, the letter threatens to oppose the farm bill unless its demands are met.

Delegates and guests were also treated to inspiring presentations on the new Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative from Sarah Lloyd and Tim Zander, WFU members who serve on the new co-op's board, and from Erin Schneider talking about her trip to Zambia last fall as one of two North American delegates for the International Day of Rural Women (IDRW) event. Erin represented  Farmers Union at the event and serves on the World Farm Organisation's Women's Committee.

Mike McCabe, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, was the featured banquet guest speaker. He talked about how "regular" people, especially in rural areas of Wisconsin, often feel politically homeless. "They feel homeless," McCabe stated, "because they are." He pointed out that nearly 90% of the donations for state campaigns come from just ten zip code areas - areas that are urban and suburban and where larger corporate offices are based. McCabe argued that ever since the Citizens United decision allowed unlimited contributions to campaigns, corporations and those with money have been the only real influence in our public policy. "It should be no surprise that the Governor's State of the State address did not mention farming as a key to our economic success, or that a farmer was not invited to be in the representative group of citizens that were on the stage with him," McCabe said.  He argued that until we remove the influence of money on politics, we will not have true representation - from either party. Rural citizens must fight to end the pay to play system that is in place now, or our communities will continue to be sorely underrepresented and continue receive the short end of the stick.

Government Relations Director Kara Slaughter presented Wisconsin Farmers Union's Friend of the Family Farmer Award to Kevin Kane, Lead Organizer for Citizen Action, for his assistance helping Wisconsin Farmers Union members understand how they are affected by the Affordable Care Act and how they can enroll in the health insurance exchange. Friend of the Family Farmer Awards were also presented to two WI State Assembly Representatives: Republican Lee Nerison, Chairman of the Assembly Committee on Agriculture, representing the 96th Assembly District representing Crawford County, southern Monroe County, and most of Vernon County., and Democrat Mandy Wright, who also serves on the Agriculture Committee and represents the 85th Assembly District encompassing Wausau and eastern Marathon County. Rep. Nerison was recognized for his efforts to successfully remove language from the state budget that have opened the door to foreign investment in WI farmland, and Rep. Wright for her steady support of rural communities and schools.

Wayne and Flo Danielson and Pat Skogen received WFU's Builders Awards for their years of commitment and service to Wisconsin Farmers Union.

Sunday, attendees were invited to four workshops: Commodity Marketing 101, Inspiring Youth for Agriculture, AARP - You Earned It!, and Climate Change - Planning for Agriculture. Saturday breakout sessions included discussions of the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement, strategies for managing Wisconsin's groundwater, models for campaign finance reform, and developing local food systems.

The convention concluded with the re-elections of Janet Nelson and Craig Myrhe as District Board Directors, and Mark Liebaert as At-Large Director. Darin Von Ruden (Westby) was re-elected as state WFU President, and Craig Myhre (Osseo) as Vice-President.



// WFU Opinion: Let the people - not big money - decide.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Guest Column
January 21, 2014
Contact: Katy Phillips

Let the people - not big money - decide. 

This week marks the fourth anniversary of the wrongheaded 2010 Citizen's United Supreme Court decision, which held that corporations are "people" under the first amendment, and are therefore entitled to exercise their right of "free speech" in the form of unlimited campaign contributions to political candidates.  In addition to being a rough year at the Supreme Court, 2010 was a rough year for Wisconsin's dairy farmers.  Milk prices had plummeted, and farmers were selling milk for less than what it cost to produce it.  There was a widespread call for reform from dairy farmers to prevent this kind of market collapse in the future.

Looking back over the last four years, it is hard not to feel like that call was falling on deaf ears.  The federal Farm Bill expired in September 2012, and now more than two full years later, we still do not have a new permanent Farm Bill.  That's two full years of inaction by Congress on the central piece of legislation for rural America.  

Why are our elected leaders paying so little attention to the needs of rural residents?  Three words:  follow the money.  The Citizens United decision ushered in an era of unlimited campaign spending, with money flowing freely across electoral districts and state lines.  It turns out that the vast majority of that campaign money in Wisconsin - nearly 90 percent - came from just one fifth of the state's zip codes.  Almost all of those were in urban and suburban areas.

In Wisconsin, every single candidate since 2010 who has received double-digit voting percentages in a gubernatorial race has come from Madison or Milwaukee.  The governor's race this year is shaping up to be no different.  Now there are plenty of nice people from Madison and Milwaukee, but the fact is that they're not especially in tune with the needs of rural areas.

It's a similar story with the legislative Joint Finance Committee, the powerful group of 16 that shapes the state's biennial budget.  Look at a map of their home districts (attached), and you'll see a striking demonstration of just how influential Milwaukee and the surrounding suburbs are on the spending of our state.  Note that this is not a partisan issue:  the "all eyes on the city" phenomenon applies to Republicans and Democrats alike.

The effects on our state budget are evident.  Since 2010, state spending for interstate improvements such as the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee has increased, while state aid for town and county roads has not kept pace with the increasing costs of road maintenance.  Spending on school vouchers that primarily benefit urban and suburban students has increased, while rural schools are struggling with reductions in state equalization grants.  Now we are contemplating a shift away from income taxes toward sales or property taxes, which hit farmers and rural landowners especially hard. 

When I look at this, it seems to me that there's a whole lot of money just going back and forth:  campaign contributions from urban and suburban areas coming in, and tax dollars to urban and suburban areas going out.  Those of us who are paying taxes in rural areas aren't getting our full share of the American promise of representative government.

We need to bring an end to unlimited and unaccountable campaign spending.  That is why I and fellow members of Wisconsin Farmers Union support an end to the era of unlimited money in politics, and are advocating for a Constitutional amendment stating that unions, corporations, and special interest groups are not people, and money is not speech.  We also support a statewide referendum that would allow all voters to weigh in on the Citizens Uniteddecision.  Is four years of unchecked money in politics enough?  We say:  let the people - not big money - decide. 

Darin Von Ruden
President, Wisconsin Farmers Union
Westby, WI

// WFU Release: Wisconsin Farmers Union Concerned With Food Safety Modernization Act
Wednesday, November 20, 2013

For Immediate Release
November 20, 2013
Contact: Katy Phillips

Wisconsin Farmers Union Concerned With Food Safety Modernization Act

Chippewa Falls, WI - Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) submitted comments today regarding concerns with the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) proposed rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The FSMA is the first major overhaul of food safety legislation in more than 70 years. Comments for these proposed rules are open until Nov. 22.

"WFU appreciates what the Food and Drug Administration was trying to do with their proposed rules, however, we are concerned that some of them have gone too far," said WFU President Darin Von Ruden. "Some of these rules could potentially have devastating effects on small and medium sized produce farmers."

Two of the pending rules for FSMA, the Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption (Produce Rule) and the Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls For Human Food (Preventive Controls Rule), have attracted the most attention from WFU's family farmer members.

"Some of these rules are over burdensome and conflict with other Federal standards," continues Von Ruden. "These rules will regulate a local CSA farm the same as a large food processing plant. These small farms cannot afford these types of expensive regulations and many could be forced to cease their operations."

"WFU is also concerned about the definition of facilities in the rule, the basis for testing requirements for agricultural water, regulations preventing harvesting if wild animals were in their fields, as well as the regulation of farmers spreading manure," said Von Ruden. "We hope the FDA takes a close look at these comments and will take appropriate action so that farmers are not regulated out of business."


// WFU Opposes Measures To Preempt Local Control of Sand Mining
Thursday, October 17, 2013

For Immediate Release
October 17, 2013
Contact:  Scott Karel - 608-234-3741skarel@wisconsinfarmersunion.com


Wisconsin Farmers Union Opposes Measures To Preempt Local Control of Sand Mining

CHIPPEWA FALLS, WI- Wisconsin Farmers Union denounced proposed bills circulating the State Senate and Assembly that would take away regulatory control over frac sand mines.   

The proposed measures currently known as LRB 3146/1 and 3408/1 would preempt local regulation of nonmetallic mining, air quality, water quality, use of explosives in mining, quarrying, and highway use contracts by local governments.  It is authored by Tom Tiffany (R) - Hazelhurst and Joan Ballweg (R) - Markesan, two legislators from the eastern part of the state where frac sand mining is least prevalent. 

 "This bill would create a tremendous expense to the Wisconsin taxpayer.  It would add much more work to state agencies already working at capacity and at the same time increase the size of the government," said Wisconsin Farmers Union president Darin Von Ruden.  "The state will need to hire more workers to oversee these additional regulations instead of allowing them to continue to be handled at the local level which would cost taxpayers nothing extra."

Wisconsin Farmers Union members passed a special resolution (below) at their annual convention earlier this year, supporting maintaining local control over frac sand mining.

"Counties and townships have previously been able to craft deals with frac sand companies that are specifically tailored to the needs of locals in those municipalities."  said Von Ruden.  "This bill would undo all the previous positive steps taken and instead let the state decided what is best for everyone."


Special Order of Business - 2013


WHEREAS, the expansion of industrial scale sand mining and processing raises significant economic, environmental, and quality of life issues, including water and air quality, quantity of ground water use, road and highway impacts and costs, reclamation plans, property values for adjacent landowners, and mining and plant operating procedures.

WHEREAS, the economic, environmental, and quality of life impacts of these operations are primarily issues of local concern.

WHEREAS, independent and reliable information about these matters is essential for local citizens and officials to make sound decisions on matters related to sand mining.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that Wisconsin Farmers Union supports local control of frac sand mining, and does not support state regulation that would preempt the ability of towns and counties to craft their own regulations tailored to their individual circumstances.

Wisconsin Farmers Union supports efforts by local governments to effectively evaluate and manage the development of these industrial sand mining and processing operations 

WFU encourages communities to consider the use of zoning as a planning tool for addressing this issue, along with negotiation of development agreements between local governments and the mining, processing and transportation businesses involved. 

WFU strongly urges the development of adequate regulatory and monitoring capacity within appropriate state agencies to assure that accurate and timely information is available, and that transparent regulatory compliance is assured.

WFU encourages towns and counties to accurately account for the income-generating capacity of this potential mine, and to establish fees, property tax provisions, or impact assessments to ensure that the economic benefits of frac sand operations are shared by all of the local residents that are negatively affected by mining operations. 

WFU encourages local governments to require robust reclamation plans and bonding sufficient to cover the costs of returning land to a pre-mined state.



// This is a state budget without principles
Thursday, June 13, 2013

// Farmers union delegates attend international convention
Wednesday, May 08, 2013

// Plain Talk: How to help real farmers, not JP Morgan
Friday, April 19, 2013

// WFU Release: WFU Submits Comments to USDA Supporting Country of Origin Labeling
Thursday, April 18, 2013

WFU Submits Comments to USDA Supporting Country of Origin Labeling

Madison, WI - April 18, 2013 - Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) submitted comments to the USDA last week in strong support of the proposed rule to strengthen Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations and offered input on additional ways to bolster the integrity of COOL. Recent decisions by the World Trade Organization (WTO) have ruled against aspects of the implementation of COOL rules.

"The only acceptable way to respond to the WTO ruling is to strengthen the labels, not make them weaker," said WFU President Darin Von Ruden.  He added, "Wisconsin farmers are extremely proud of the products they produce.  In fact, we often go out of our way to advertise the fact that our goods were made in Wisconsin through state supported marketing programs." 

WFU members have voted in support of Country of Origin Labeling for many years and believe that strengthening COOL labeling will benefit them financially.  Wisconsin has more state-inspected meat processing plants than any other state and the demand for Wisconsin produced beef will only grow if consumers are provided with the proper information that allows them to identify the meat produced in the United States. 

WFU joined more than 200, farm, rural, environmental, and consumer organizations who voiced their support for the strengthening of the COOL labeling requirements.  More and more Americans consumers are demanding additional information about the products they purchase, and this includes the origins of their food.  More than 20 state legislatures are considering bills that demand more information about how food is produced and gets passed to the consumer through labeling.  "It is amazing when you consider that you can go to a fast food restaurant and they tell you what country the plastic toy that came with the kids meal was manufactured in but they don't tell you where the food your kids are eating was produced," said Von Ruden.   

For more information about COOL regulations please contact:
Scott Karel
Government Relations Associate
Wisconsin Farmers Union


// Proposed changes to Wisconsin nonresident alien land ownership law
Tuesday, April 02, 2013

// WFU Release: Wisconsin Farmers Union Attends National Farmers Union Annual Convention
Thursday, March 07, 2013

For Immediate Release
March 7, 2013
Contact: Katy Phillips

Wisconsin Farmers Union Attends National Farmers Union Annual Convention 

Chippewa Falls, WI - Members, staff and officers of Wisconsin Farmers Union attended the 111th National Farmers Union Convention in Springfield, MA last weekend, March 2- March 5. As expected, there was significant focus on Congress' failure to pass a new farm bill.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson convened the general session of the National Convention March 3rd. The keynote speaker of the morning was U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan who stressed, "By failing to pass a five-year farm bill, Congress is tapping the breaks on the momentum that has been building in rural America. We need a farm bill, and we need it now."

Convention attendees also heard about the future of rural broadband and other initiatives from Ramona Carlow, AT&T vice president of public policy. Young leaders of the NFU National Youth Advisory Committee also addressed the crowd about their endeavors in Farmers Union and agriculture.

Educational breakout sessions were held throughout the convention on the changing marketplace, conservation compliance, Farmers Union's involvement in international agriculture, increasing demand for local food, farm safety, and women in agriculture.

The four-day event concluded with the delegates considering and adopting the organization's policy for the next year.

Wisconsin's delegates were WFU President Darin Von Ruden, WFU Board Directors Janet Nelson and Michael Slattery, and WFU Member Pascal D'Huyvetter.

Support for conservation compliance requirements for federal crop insurance premium subsidy eligibility, a priority issue for WFU, was reaffirmed. Darin Von Ruden explained, "There is a wide misunderstanding of conservation compliance. That if you don't follow required practices, you can't buy crop insurance. You can certainly still buy it without following conservation guidelines, but if you don't follow the guidelines you may not be eligible for taxpayer subsidies." 

"WFU believes if you are going to receive taxpayer subsidies for crop insurance, you should be safeguarding the land as best as possible, protecting the investment."

Several special orders of business were adopted by the body, placing an emphasis on a five-year farm bill being passed this year. Other special orders dealt with ongoing challenges to dairy farmers, the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, continuation of reliable postal service, and appropriate regulation of small financial institutions.

Delegates adopted policy favoring comprehensive reform of immigration laws in relation to agricultural workers. The body also renewed its support for affordable healthcare, with an emphasis on disease prevention and access to nutritionally sound foods.

"The voices of family farmers, ranchers and fishermen and women have been heard," said NFU President Roger Johnson. "NFU will continue to work on behalf of the providers of our nation's feed, fuel, food and fiber. As we head back to Washington, D.C., we have a very clear message to relay to Congress: a five-year farm bill must be completed as soon as possible to provide certainty and protection against multi-year price collapse."


Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization, is committed to enhancing the quality of lifefor family farmers and rural communities through educational opportunities, cooperativeendeavors and civic engagement.


// WFU Release: A Successful 82nd Annual Convention for Wisconsin Farmers Union
Monday, January 28, 2013

For Immediate Release
January 28, 2013
Contact: Katy Phillips

A Successful 82nd Annual Convention for Wisconsin Farmers Union

Eau Claire, WI - About 250 people gathered for the Wisconsin Farmers Union 82nd Annual State Convention this past weekend, January 25-27, 2012 at the Plaza Hotel & Suites in Eau Claire. The theme of this year's convention, United to Grow Family Agriculture, focused on the important connection between farmers and their communities. Farming and rural life is changing and Wisconsin Farmers Union recognizes that in order for our family farms and rural communities to remain sustainable and prosperous, we must continue to work together cooperatively.

WFU President Darin Von Ruden welcomed attendees to the convention and discussed WFU's 2012 year-in-review, new cooperative efforts like WFU's partnership with the developing Dane County Food Hub, and where the organization wants to go in 2013. Attendees also heard from Eau Claire County Farmers Union President Sarah Henderson, State Assembly Representatives Dana Wachs and Kathy Bernier, WFU member Miriam Valley talking about the Fall Fly-In to DC, and WFU member Susie Hoffman talking about her experience at last summer's NFU Women's Conference.

The convention keynote speaker was Roger Johnson, President of National Farmers Union. His talk focused on the inability of Congress to pass a new 5-year Farm Bill, stating, "It's totally irresponsible that both houses could not agree on a Farm Bill - but then this Congress has been un-Godly dysfunctional on everything. In fact, this has been the least productive Congress in last 60 years." He went on to explain that the Farm Bill is about 2% of total federal spending, but it has a great impact on economic growth and jobs, especially in rural areas. He noted that nutrition programs are a large part of recent farm bill spending, but that spending on these programs is designed to ebb and flow through good and bad economic times to meet the food security needs of our citizens. Johnson was also critical of efforts by some in Congress and the media to characterize the Farm Bill as a food stamp bill. Johnson stated that working with Congress to pass a new 5-year Farm Bill remains a top priority for National Farmers Union.

One of the convention highlights was a special panel of people sharing personal stories of innovative cooperative business and farming ventures. John McNamara, Business Manager for Union Cab of Madison Cooperative talked about the benefits of the worker-owned cab business as a sustainable business model that has helped its members grow as individuals with self-supportable jobs and security.

Tracy Didzinski, President of Cooperative Care - a worker-owned home care provider service in Wautoma, WI, discussed the benefits of cooperation in securing decent pay, benefits, and workable structures for helping to solve the shortage of rural home care workers.

Brian Austin, Board Member of the Fifth Season Cooperative in Viroqua, WI, talked about the successful efforts of Fifth Season in developing the local food economy by facilitating partnerships with local farmers and Reinhart Food Service.

Zack Biermann, Farm and Biofuel Program Coordinator and Nicole Spinelli, Farm Sustainability Coordinator for Organic Valley Cooperative talked about Organic Valley's efforts to share equipment, integrate energy efficiency and renewable energy sources with their farmer members, and discussed the successful partnership between Organic Valley and Gunderson Lutheran Health System in purchasing two wind turbines in Cashton, WI that are generating significant energy for both facilities.

Writer, humorist, and musician Michael Perry was the featured banquet guest speaker, entertaining guests with his generously hearted, spot-on stories of rural life in Wisconsin. After the banquet program, he and his band, the Long Beds, performed a fun set of acoustic music often described as "country folk."

Government Relations Director Kara Slaughter presented Wisconsin Farmers Union's Friend of the Family Farmer Award to State Senator Dale Schultz, State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, and Wisconsin Towns Association Executive Director Richard J. Stadelman for their work and commitment to serving the needs of rural residents.

Sunday, attendees were invited to four workshops: Activating Your Local farmers Union - Effective ideas and options for supporting and increasing local participation, Frac Sand Mining: Current Status and Community Impact - a discussion of this growing industry; economic, public health, safety and community impact, Germany's Renewable Energy Progress - a look at Germany's commitment to renewable energy technologies, and Getting Money Out of Politics - a discussion of the impact of "Citizens United" and the resulting influence of corporate money on elections.

The convention concluded with the re-elections of Darin Von Ruden and W. Michael Slattery as District Board Directors and with the election of Ed Gorell as District Board Director of Chippewa, Clark, and Eau Claire Counties. He replaces Wayne Danielson who retired his seat after 11 years of outstanding leadership and service to the Board of Wisconsin Farmers Union.



// Scott Karel: Increase options for alternative energy
Wednesday, January 16, 2013

// Lack of Farm Bill forces farmers toward dairy cliff
Tuesday, December 11, 2012

// WFU Release: Wisconsin Farmers Union Hires New Government Relations Associate
Tuesday, November 20, 2012

For Immediate Release
November 20, 2012
Contact: Katy Phillips

Wisconsin Farmers Union Hires New Government Relations Associate 

Chippewa Falls, WI - Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) president Darin Von Ruden announced that Scott Karel has been hired to fill the position of Government Relations Associate for the organization. Karel hails from a family of dairy and crop farmers in Green Lake and Dodge Counties, and grew up working on his uncle's dairy farm. He studied political science at UW-Oshkosh and completed his law degree at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. While in law school, Karel worked as a law clerk for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of General Counsel in St. Paul.

"Scott will bring agricultural law and policy background to Wisconsin Farmers Union, as well as the practical knowledge that comes from living in a rural community," Von Ruden said. "We are excited to have Scott joining the WFU team." 

WFU is a general farm organization that provides educational opportunities and legislative services to its members. The organization has nearly 1,500 member families across the state, including family farmers, rural residents and consumers.

Karel will work closely with WFU Government Relations Director Kara Slaughter to educate members about policy developments that affect farmers and rural areas, and to communicate the views of WFU members to the legislature and state agencies. A former real estate agent dealing in ag and recreational properties, Karel will focus particularly on farmland preservation and farm-related business regulatory issues for Wisconsin Farmers Union. Karel is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman, and consults for Pheasants Forever regarding conservation easements. 

"I am excited to come on board with a dynamic organization like Wisconsin Farmers Union. WFU has solid policy positions and a great vision for rural Wisconsin - this is an easy organization to get behind.  I see good things ahead for Wisconsin Farmers Union, and I'm looking forward to being a part of it."

Karel begins his position with Wisconsin Farmers Union this month, and can be reached at skarel@wisconsinfarmersunion.com.



// WFU Opinion: Buy Local shouldn't be on chopping block
Friday, November 09, 2012

// A clear choice in a critical election
Monday, November 05, 2012

// WFU Opinion: Administration's Economic Development Strategy is All Show, Not Much Go
Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Administration's Economic Development Strategy is All Show, Not Much Go

State agency budget proposals tell us a lot about the direction in which the governor and state agencies intend to head in the coming years. Judging by the budget numbers that were released last month, this Administration is proposing to invest its economic development dollars in a few flashy show horses, rather than a herd of tried-and-true workhorses.        

In 2011, Governor Walker dissolved the Wisconsin Department of Commerce and replaced it with a public-private entity called Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). That organization is charged with encouraging job creation and economic development in the state. 

How has WEDC performed so far?  A report recently released by the Federal Housing and Urban Development agency found that WEDC had violated state and federal guidelines when awarding grant and loan funds to Wisconsin businesses. WEDC failed to make sure that the companies it was supporting were financially sound. For example, WEDC failed to perform required underwriting before extending grants of $390,000 to Gilman USA LLC, a machining company in Grafton, and $1 million to Morgan Aircraft in Sheboygan. WEDC also came under fire for how expensive its projects were. In one case, WEDC made a forgivable loan of $3 million to metal fabricating company Kapco to create 152 jobs at its Osceola plant. That's a hefty $20,000 of state investment per job created. State guidelines called for spending no more than $10,000 per job created.

Despite this questionable track record, WEDC is requesting over $24 MILLION for grants and loans to Wisconsin businesses for the 2013-2015 biennium.

In contrast, the Department of Agriculture's budget request zeros out funding for two business development programs with proven track records. The Agriculture Development and Diversification Grant (ADD) provides small grants to help stimulate Wisconsin's agricultural economy through the development or exploration of new product, markets or technologies. From 1989-2006, the ADD grant program created 600 new jobs, 450 new products, and 180 new markets, and generated a whopping 19 to 1 return on state investment. The state invested $321,000 per year into this program in the last biennium. DATCP proposes $0 for this program in the 2013-2015 biennium.

The Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grant is a newer program that focuses on building the infrastructure to develop the growing local foods economy. In the first two and a half years that the program was up and running, it tallied 38 new jobs created (impressive for a program of its size) and a 5-to-1 return on state investment. The state invested $200,000 per year for this program in the last biennium. DATCP proposed $0 for the program in the 2013-2015 biennium.

The administration's focus appears to be on making a small number of high-profile grants larger employers, rather than making modest seed grants to small businesses that have proven their ability to generate solid returns.  This strategy of putting all of our eggs in one basket is unwise. One of the reasons that Wisconsin fared better than other states during the last economic recession was the diversity of our state's economy, and specifically the presence of agriculture as a counterweight to manufacturing and service sector industries. Farms, unlike factories or call centers, are tied to land and place. When the going gets tough and other businesses pull up stakes and seek greener pastures elsewhere, farms stay put and keep contributing to the state's economic output.

Let's take that $24 Million that WEDC is requesting and diversify our portfolio, putting at least $1 Million of that back into the Agricultural Diversification and Buy Local programs. Sure, it's nice to keep a few show horses. But it doesn't make sense to empty the barn of workhorses in the process. 

Darin Von Ruden

President, Wisconsin Farmers Union
Westby, WI


// WFU seeking part-time Government Affairs Associate
Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wisconsin Farmers Union is seeking a part-time Government Affairs Associate. 

Responsibilities include researching existing and proposed state laws, presenting Wisconsin Farmers Union positions to elected and appointed officials and members of the public, and keeping members up to speed on state and federal legislative developments. Key policy areas for this position will include farmland preservation and ag enterprise business development. 

This position will report to the Government Affairs Director.


- Excellent verbal and written communication skills.
- Ability to work as a member of a team.
- Experience interacting with farmers and rural landowners.
- Familiarity with easements, deed restrictions, and other farmland preservation tools.
- Bachelor's degree required; law or other advanced degree preferred.

Kara Slaughter
Government Relations Director, Wisconsin Farmers Union
16 North Carroll Street
Suite 810
Madison, WI 53703


// WFU Release: Wisconsin Farmers Union Applauds Supreme Court
Friday, October 19, 2012

October 19, 2012
Contact: Katy Phillips

 Wisconsin Farmers Union Applauds Supreme Court's Decision to Hear GMO Case

Chippewa Falls, WI - The Supreme Court announced on October 5th that it would hear the case of Bowman vs. Monsanto Co., a case that will test the limits of Monsanto's patents on genetically modified seed traits. "To be honest, we're a little surprised, but very pleased. Convincing the Supreme Court to hear the case was somewhat of a long shot," said Darin Von Ruden, President of Wisconsin Farmers Union.

The Supreme Court takes less than two percent of the cases presented to it. Making the challenge even steeper was the fact that the government's own Department of Justice was urging the Supreme Court not to take the case, which would have allowed the judgment against farmer Arthur Bowman to stand. National Farmers Union, on the other hand, stood behind Bowman and supported his request for the Supreme Court to review his case. 

The issue in this case is whether Bowman infringed on Monsanto's patent when he planted bulk soybeans that he bought from the local elevator. The seeds were not certified as Roundup Ready - Bowman simply purchased generic soybeans from the bulk bin - and therefore Bowman did not sign a Monsanto technology agreement for the seeds. Upon planting the seeds and spraying them with Roundup, however, Bowman discovered many of them were indeed resistant to Roundup. Monsanto claims that even though Bowman never signed a technology agreement for the seeds, he still violated Monsanto's patent, on the theory that the patent is self-replicating and renews itself every time a new generation of seeds is produced. 

"Farmers Union is glad that the Supreme Court will be taking up this question of patent exhaustion on genetically modified seeds," said Von Ruden. "There needs to be limits - Monsanto's control over the seed supply has gone far enough."




// Legislators put politics above farmers
Tuesday, October 02, 2012

// WFU Release: The House Walks Away From Rural America
Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September 18, 2012
Contact: Katy Phillips


The House Walks Away From Rural America

Chippewa Falls, WI - Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden issued the following statement in response to the U.S. House of Representatives decision to go home Friday without acting on the Farm Bill:

"It appears that the House would rather play politics than finish the essential business of passing a new Farm Bill before the current legislation expires September 30. The Farm Bill is not only critical to farmers, but to everyone. It affects 16 million jobs and is a vital investment in rural America."

"Pushing the Farm Bill off until lame duck session - if it evens comes to the floor then -  or calling for a three month extension of the current legislation still leaves our farmers without certainty of important programs necessary to make business and planting decisions. Especially when we're just coming out of severe drought. Dairy and land conservation programs will take the most immediate hit because they expire in two weeks. The Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC), for example, protects dairy farmers from low milk prices. This has enabled many family dairies to, at the very least, stay in business. The failure to provide funding for conservation programs makes no sense. These programs provide farmers with proven tools that can protect crops and soils against drought and floods, and actually save money and preserve natural resources. These programs are needed now more than ever."

"The Senate and House versions of the new Farm Bill have been marked up and ready to be brought to the House floor for a long time. There is no reason that the new Farm Bill should not have been acted upon, other than the majority leaders in the House wanting to wait and see the results of the November elections. The House leadership chose to walk away from farmers rather than do their job and deal with the tough political questions and take the difficult votes. Our family farmers and our rural communities should not be used as pawns in this game."


 Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization, is committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors and civic engagement.


// Farm Bill Finale: Milk, mayhem
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

// WFU Release: Wisconsin Farmers Union Honors Kohl, Baldwin and Moore with the Golden Triangle Award
Wednesday, September 12, 2012

September 12, 2012
Contact: Katy Phillips

Wisconsin Farmers Union Honors Kohl, Baldwin and Moore
with the Golden Triangle Award

Washington, D.C. - Wisconsin Farmers Union President, Darin Von Ruden, along with NFU President Roger Johnson and the WI Delegation for this week's Annual National Farmers Union Fly-In, presented U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin, and U.S. Representative Gwen Moore with the Golden Triangle Award - National Farmers Union's highest legislative award recognizing congressional leadership on behalf of family farmers and rural communities.

"This year's Golden Triangle Award recipients were selected for their leadership on a variety of issues, including discussions for the next farm bill and protecting agriculture from even deeper cuts during negotiations earlier this year," said WFU President Darin Von Ruden.

"Wisconsin Farmers Union appreciates the support Sen. Kohl and Reps. Baldwin and Moore have given to our farmers and rural communities. They are true allies of our organization and members."

The Golden Triangle Award is presented each year to select members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in recognition of their leadership on issues important to rural America.


 Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization, is committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors and civic engagement. 


// WFU Release: "Farm Bill Now!" Rally Draws Hundreds of Supporters
Wednesday, September 12, 2012

September 12, 2012
Contact: Katy Phillips

"Farm Bill Now!" Rally Draws Hundreds of Supporters

 WASHINGTON (Sept. 12, 2012) - More than 200 Farmers Union members joined hundreds of other farmers, ranchers and agriculture industry supporters in the shadow of the Capitol today for the "Farm Bill Now!" rally to send a clear message to Congress that they want a farm bill now.

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson cohosted the rally with American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. They were joined on stage by many members of Congress and leaders from a broad spectrum of supporting organizations.

"We are all united on one thing; we need a farm bill and we need a farm bill now," said Johnson.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee; Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking member of the Committee on Agriculture; and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., addressed the crowd.

Several members of Congress stood with their colleagues on stage in a sign of support.

"We heard from several members of Congress who have been on the Hill a long time, and they said there's plenty of time to pass a farm bill," said Johnson. "There's no excuse for Congress not doing their job. This is detrimental to all of America. The farm bill is a food, energy and jobs bill."

Afterwards, Johnson expressed cautious optimism that the message of the rally would make an impact on legislators.

Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden echoed Johnson's message saying, "Wisconsin's family farms and all citizens should not have to wait any longer for Congress to pass the Farm Bill. They need to do their job and they need to do it now. This isn't just a bill for farmers. This is a bill that affects every American."

The Senate passed their version of the bill last June and the House Agriculture Committee passed theirs in July. It now needs to go to the House floor.

"I'm hopeful that the enthusiastic response and high energy of the crowd made an impact. The ball is now in the House's court. If the members didn't get the message, perhaps they'll get it on Nov. 6," said Johnson.

The "Farm Bill Now!" rally was endorsed by 90 associations and coalitions representing commodity crops, livestock, dairy, specialty crops, consumers, state and local governments, minor crops, energy and biobased product groups, farm cooperatives and financial groups.

The other speakers included Fred Yoder, representative of 25x'25; Ambassador Tony P. Hall, executive director of Alliance to End Hunger; Bob Stallman, president of American Farm Bureau Federation; Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust; Steve Wellman, president of American Soybean Association; Gene Schmidt, president of National Association of Conservation Districts; Bing Von Bergen, first vice president of National Association of Wheat Growers; Sally Greenberg, executive director of National Consumers League; Garry Niemeyer, president of National Corn Growers Association; Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union; Ken Nobis, president of Michigan Milk Producers Association, representing National Milk Producers Federation; and David Masser of President and COO Keystone Potato Products in Penn., representing United Fresh Produce Association.

For more information on efforts to raise awareness of the plight of the farm bill, please visit www.FarmBillNow.com. Photos, video and audio will be posted soon.

A complete list of organizations endorsing can be found here. 


 Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization, is committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors and civic engagement. 


// Congress Comes Back to a Face-Off With Angry Farmers
Monday, September 10, 2012

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

August 1, 2012
Contact: Katy Phillips


The undersigned farm organizations support finding a path forward to reaching agreement on a new five-year farm bill before current program authorities expire on Sept. 30.  We are disappointed that the House Republican leadership has decided to not move forward with the House Agriculture Committee's bill before adjourning for the August recess. That bill would provide the disaster relief our farm and ranch families need at this time.

Instead, we understand the House may consider a separate disaster bill, under suspension of the rules on August 2, to make supplemental agricultural disaster assistance available for Fiscal Year 2012.  Specifically, the bill retroactively extends theLivestock Indemnity Program (LIP), the Livestock Forage Program (LFP), the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP) so that producers are helped for Fiscal Year 2012.  All of those programs expired in 2011.  Offsets to pay for the disaster assistance would come from imposing caps on two conservation programs, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

We do not oppose passage of a disaster assistance bill, but note that almost identical provisions to retroactively extend these four programs are included in the Senate-passed farm bill and the bill reported by the House Agriculture Committee.  Those measures would likely be included in any conference committee report.  It is imperative that we pass a comprehensive, long-term farm bill.  Farmers and ranchers always face decisions that carry very serious financial ramifications, such as planting a crop, buying land or building a herd, and we need clear and confident signals from our lawmakers. 

Assistance for cattle and sheep producers is very important and something that we strongly support in the five-year farm bill, but it is also important that assistance be provided for other types of livestock and for producers of fruits and vegetables.  The disaster assistance bill does not help hog or poultry producers and only provides limited assistance via the grazing program for the dairy industry.  The bill does not help dairy producers who are not located in a designated disaster county with grazing assistance and does not address high feed prices for dairy, hog or poultry producers. Many producers of fruits and vegetables may not have crop insurance available to them as a risk management tool, and they too need some type of help, which this package does not address.

The Congressional Budget Office scores this one-year bill as costing $383 million.  That expense is offset by cuts of $639 million from the CSP and EQIP programs, leaving $256 million to go towards deficit reduction.  If the House simply passed the five-year farm bill reported out of Committee on a bipartisan basis, this bill would not be necessary.  While we understand that will not happen before the August recess, this bill potentially costs more than $600 million and would only provide relief to livestock producers a month or two earlier than a farm bill debated and passed in September.  Agriculture will already provide a minimum of $23 billion in deficit reduction by passing the farm bill.  We do not need to provide additional deficit reduction in this package only a few months before we provide far more than agriculture's "fair share."

Both the Senate and the House Agriculture Committees have produced reform-minded, bipartisan bills that address many of the core principles we believe are important, such as strengthening crop insurance as a reliable risk management tool or ensuring strong agricultural research and development. We remain committed to attempting to pass a five-year farm bill as soon as possible, including the long-term provisions it includes that would help alleviate the emergency conditions we are seeing across the country.

American Farm Bureau Federation
American Soybean Association
National Association of Wheat Growers
National Barley Growers Association
National Corn Growers Association
National Farmers Union
National Milk Producers Federation
National Sunflower Association
United Fresh Produce Association
U.S. Canola Association
USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council
Western Growers



// Drought Information & Resources
Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Drought Information & Resources

Three changes were announced this week that will improve access to feed and forage for Wisconsin livestock farmers:     

1)      DOT increased weight and size limits for trucks transporting hay on state roads. Click for more information.

2)     DNR authorized limited haying and grazing on state-owned land. Click for more information.

Additional Drought Information

 Governor Walker has declared a drought emergency in all 72 counties and has asked for federal assistance in 23 counties. In order for Wisconsin to qualify for Federal Emergency assistance, there must be a 30% loss of any one crop. It is critical that farmers promptly report their losses to their local FSA office. Data is being collected right now to determine what our losses are and what help counties may receive. 

Also, check out these helpful websites for more information: 

  Wisconsin Emergency Management Agency

  DNR Website 


  UW Extension 

  The Farmer-to-Farmer Hay and Forager

  Farmer-to-Farmer for Pasture Rental 


// WFU Opinion: Health Care Exchanges Critical for Wisconsin's Farmers and Rural Communities
Friday, July 20, 2012

Health Care Exchanges Critical for Wisconsin's Farmers and Rural Communities

There's been a lot of hubbub regarding the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Wisconsin Farmers Union supports the Supreme Court's decision because it is good for our farm families, rural neighbors, and all Americans. Though the law is far from perfect, it is a huge step in the right direction for family farmers and rural communities to get access to dependable, affordable health care.

The decision to uphold the individual mandate keeps the Affordable Care Act intact. It is critical to protecting reforms significant to our members: support for health care exchange programs for the self-employed who can't afford expensive care in the individual market, resources for rural health care providers and incentives to physicians serving rural areas. The Act prevents health insurance companies from denying care based on preexisting conditions, and closes the Medicare prescription drug coverage "doughnut hole."

There has been a lot of misinformation regarding the Affordable Care Act. The bottom line is that a lot more people will be able to acquire and afford health insurance. Statewide, about 340,000 people will be able to get health insurance - about half through exchanges and half through Medicaid expansion 

Health Care Exchanges are critical for Wisconsin's farmers and rural communities.

Rural residents often have the hardest time getting health insurance because they are predominately self-employed and run small businesses, with insurance costs too high because of small risk pools. They often pay way too much for terrible coverage. Some are uninsurable because of the high-risk nature of farming. Many can't pay high premiums for the current system of individual and family coverage. Exchanges will broaden risk pools for these people and bring down costs of insurance and health care dollars spent.

Senator Kathleen Vinehout already introduced a bill last year- the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) - to establish a uniquely Wisconsin health insurance exchange. It has sat without even a committee hearing since last fall. This bill needs to move forward to help individuals, farmers, and small businesses. The Walker administration is saying it will not pursue implementing Health Care Exchanges until either after the November election (in hopes the ACA will be repealed) or until the Federal Government makes them mandatory in 2014.

The bill seeks to make the buying groups as strong as possible, by expanding the group to as many employers as allowed by Federal law - so all employers with 100 employees or less. The bill also creates a separate exchange for all people who now buy insurance on their own. This is huge for our family farmers.

In essence, the SHOP bill gives small groups big buying power so you are no longer buying insurance just for yourself or small business. It also helps people find out if they are eligible for tax credits or other programs like BadgerCare. It establishes a competitive marketplace where private insurers compete for business and requires accurate and simple comparison of plans, including information about medical performance, price, and benefits.

It's disappointing, to say the least, that our legislative majority would be dragging their feet on getting this done. I can't imagine why any of them would want to wait on this. Creating our own state exchanges keeps the control in Wisconsin. And a whole lot of the work has already been done. There's already a good bill to consider.

There are three major problems with waiting. First, our uninsured and underinsured rural families are tired of waiting. Are tired of worrying that they can't afford medical help if they get sick or injured. Are tired of worrying that they could lose their farms if someone gets really sick.

Second, we should be creating our own Wisconsin Exchange plan and not wait for a blanket-style Federal exchange program that may not work as well for us.

Third, waiting to create these desperately needed exchanges in order to score some sort of political points is astonishing - reprehensible, really. And waiting is also against the law.

Every American deserves health care that is comprehensive, affordable and accessible, regardless of occupation or geographic area. Wisconsin Farmers Union commends the Supreme Court on its decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This is an important step to bringing necessary health care reform to our farmers, rural communities, and all Americans.

Last, we now call on Governor Walker and our state leaders to immediately begin work on creating Wisconsin health care exchanges. Our members and friends can't wait.


Darin Von Ruden
President, Wisconsin Farmers Union
Westby, WI


// WFU Release: Statement on the Larson Acres V. Town of Magnolia State Supreme Court Decision
Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 12, 2012
Contact: Katy Phillips


Wisconsin Farmers Union's Statement on the Larson Acres V. Town of Magnolia 
State Supreme Court Decision

Chippewa Falls, WI - Following is WFU President Darin Von Ruden's statement regarding the Supreme Court's decision yesterday in the Larson Acres v. Town of Magnolia case:

"It is disappointing, but not altogether surprising. The outcome of the case demonstrates just how thoroughly the livestock facility siting law preempts local control over large livestock facilities."

"At the same time, the decision makes clear that towns do retain their fundamental police powers to regulate health, safety, and welfare of their communities.  This decision highlights the need for communities to be proactive in adopting ordinances to protect air and water quality that may go beyond the minimum standards established by the livestock siting ordinance. The key lesson of the Larson Acres decision is that such ordinances must be implemented before a large livestock facility applies for a permit." 

"In the Larson Acres case, one large farm benefitted from the absence of local ordinances, while neighboring farms suffered odors and possible groundwater contamination and reduction in property values. Similar scenarios have played themselves out in all corners of the state. There is a better alternative, and that is for towns to be proactive rather than reactive in passing zoning ordinances, adopting the livestock siting ordinance, and crafting locally-appropriate ordinances related to setbacks, lights, dust, spray irrigation, manure storage facilities, and water quality monitoring. Those measures will ensure that towns can encourage agricultural development, without resulting in negative impacts to others in the community."



// WFU Release: WFU Joins Coalition in Urging State Legislators to Hold Public Hearings on Transparency and Accountability in Wisconsin Elections
Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 11, 2012
Contact: Katy Phillips


WFU Joins Coalition in Urging State Legislators to Hold Public Hearings on Transparency and Accountability in Wisconsin Elections

Following is the letter, delivered to legislative leaders Senators Miller and Fitzgerald, Speaker Fitzgerald, and Reps. Suder and Barca, urging them to hold hearings:

July 10, 2012

Dear Legislative Leaders,

We are writing to urge you to hold hearings this summer to give the public opportunities to provide you feedback on the recall elections we've had in Wisconsin and the need for improved transparency and accountability in all our elections, to set the stage for a special legislative session on reform later this year.

While candidates, interest groups, and campaigns have spent more than $100 million in recall elections over the past year, the public has largely been left in the dark about who is behind these unprecedented campaign contributions and expenditures, and therefore, what they are doing to our democracy.  

 Recent elections have exposed several troubling deficiencies in our campaign finance system which, over the past two years, have hidden essential information from the electorate and allowed outside interests to drown out the voices of ordinary Wisconsinites. We hope that you will take the lessons of 2011 and 2012 to heart and commit yourselves to reforming our elections system in the wake of the recalls.

We recommend that hearings focus on at least five specific actions that could be taken to bring us closer to transparency and accountability in Wisconsin elections: 

  1. New disclosure laws ensuring that the public can see where every single penny spent on state elections comes from.
  2. Close the loophole in Wisconsin law allowing public officials targeted for recall to engage in unlimited campaign fundraising.
  3. Require corporations to notify and get permission from shareholders in order to use their money for election spending.
  4. Require that television, radio, and newspaper outlets keep an online public record of advertising time purchased for electioneering purposes.
  5. Create an independent, nonpartisan redistricting authority to draw new legislative and congressional boundaries after each census. 

In the otherwise controversial arena of campaign finance, there has long been consensus - across the political spectrum - regarding the benefits of full disclosure of the sources and amounts of campaign funds. In fact, in the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United Justice Kennedy affirmed the importance of disclosure, writing that it "enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages." Ironically, it was that very case which opened new pipelines for dark money to flow into our elections and led to significant new secret campaign spending.

Because of Citizens United we cannot at this time prevent unlimited spending in our state elections, but we can enact new disclosure laws shining light on that spending. We also can shore up existing limits on campaign contributions directly to candidates by closing obscure loopholes allowing those limits to be circumvented. And we can give individual citizens a say over how their money is used for political campaigning.

We urge your support and commitment to hold public hearings focusing on reforming how Wisconsin deals with campaign money and other aspects of our election process, which are sorely in need of greater accountability and transparency. Your support and immediate action to move forward with these modest but important reforms by holding hearings followed by a special legislative session will move Wisconsin toward full disclosure and election integrity. 

Thank you for your consideration of our request. Members of our coalition will be following up with you or a member of your staff over the next several days.


Bruce Speight, Director

Mike McCabe, Executive Director
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

Nino Amato, President
Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Group

Andrea Kaminski, Executive Director
League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network

Billy Feitlinger, Director
WI Alliance for Retired Americans

Brynne McBride, Associate Director
ABC for Health Inc.

Kara Slaughter, Government Relations Director
Wisconsin Farmers Union

Lisa Graves, Director
Center for Media and Democracy

Bryan Kennedy, Ph.D., President 

Diane Farsetta, Director
Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice

Matt Guidry, Communications Director
United Council of UW Students

Jeff Knight, Executive Assistant for Labor Relations
Madison Teachers Inc.

Robert Kraig, Executive Director
Citizen Action of Wisconsin

Kim Wright, Executive Director
Midwest Environmental Advocates

Senay Goitom, Co-Chair
South Central Wisconsin Move to Amend

Charlie Higley, Executive Director
Citizens Utility Board

Ken Taylor, Executive Director
Wisconsin Council on Children and Families

Linda Ketcham, Executive Director
Madison-area Urban Ministry

Anne Lee, President
American Association of University Women - Wisconsin

Shahla Werner, Chapter Director
Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter 

Letter can be accessed online at: http://www.wispirg.org/news/wip/groups-call-leg-hearings-wake-recall-elections


// WFU Government Relations Director, Kara Slaughter, discusses the Farm Bill on WPR's "The West Side."
Friday, July 06, 2012

// Congress Should Support the Department of Defense's Movement Toward Advanced Biofuels
Thursday, July 05, 2012

Congress Should Support the Department of Defense's Movement Toward Advanced Biofuels

The US Department of Defense is making great strides in declaring its independence from foreign oil, by aggressively pursuing advanced biofuels capable of powering ground vehicles, ships, and aircraft. This is a common sense initiative that increases military readiness and national security, while providing new economic opportunities for U.S. businesses and farmers.

In a recent interview, United States (US) Navy Secretary Ray Mabus pointed out the absurdity of relying on oil-rich countries in the Middle East to power the U.S. military. "We're moving away from fossil fuels for one reason, that it makes us better war fighters. We would never give these countries the opportunities to build our ships, our aircraft, our ground vehicles, but we give them a vote in whether those ships sail and whether those aircraft fly or those ground vehicles operate when we allow them to set the price and the supply of our energy. We've just got to move away from it."

Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have recently made moves to prevent the Department of Defense from purchasing advanced biofuels, in a misguided attempt to save the few extra cents per gallon that biofuels cost over petroleum-based fuels. This strategy is penny-wise but pound-foolish.

Let's talk about the real costs of petroleum-based fuels. The U.S. spends $80 billion each year to defend shipping lanes in hostile waters, so we can protect our access to foreign oil. Last year the U.S. imported 1.85 million barrels of oil per day from the Persian Gulf, sending $69.3 billion to countries like Saudi Arabia and Iraq. And then, of course, there is the cost in human lives of the servicemen and women who we put in harm's way to feed our addiction to Middle East oil. For those of us from rural areas, this human cost hits close to home: rural America represents 17 percent of the population but makes up 44 percent of the military.

Luckily, as the Department of Defense is proving, there is an alternative, and it can actually bring jobs and new economic activity to rural areas. The Navy and Air Force are integrating fuels from homegrown feedstocks such as wood waste and the camelina plant that compare favorably to their petroleum-based counterparts. Jim Lane of Biofuels Digest reported on May 21st of this year that "New tests conducted at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have revealed that US warplanes are capable of flying faster and carry more payload on missions, when flying with synthetic fuels, including biofuels, compared to conventional military jet fuels made from petroleum."

The most promising way forward is for the Department of Defense to partner with private industry in developing these next generation high-tech fuels. Indeed, just this week the Navy announced a $62 Million public-private partnership to do just that. $62 million is a far cry from $80 billion, but it's a start. Wisconsin biofuels companies would be in a great position to take advantage of DoD seed capital to fuel new research, create jobs, and provide new markets for agricultural products in the process. 

The US military must be able to pursue the use of advanced biofuels for our nation's energy security. Advanced biofuels create a tremendous economic opportunity for rural America. Legislation that restricts the military from purchasing advanced biofuels is not only short sighted, it's an irresponsible use of public policy.

Darin Von Ruden
President, Wisconsin Farmers Union
Westby, WI


// Affordable Care Act and Rural Areas
Monday, July 02, 2012

// WFU Release: WFU Applauds Supreme Court for Upholding the Affordable Care Act
Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 28, 2012
Contact: Katy Phillips

Wisconsin Farmers Union Applauds Supreme Court for Upholding the Affordable Care Act

Chippewa Falls, WI - WFU President Darin Von Ruden issued the following statement today in support of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:

"This is a huge step in the right direction for better enabling family farmers and rural communities' access to accessible, affordable health care. The decision to uphold the individual mandate keeps the Affordable Care Act intact. A law critical to protecting reforms significant to our members and all Americans: support for health care exchange programs for the self-employed who can't afford expensive care in the individual market, resources for rural health care providers and incentives to physicians serving rural areas, prevents health insurance companies from denying care based on preexisting conditions, and closes the Medicare prescription drug coverage "donut hole."

"Every American deserves health care that is comprehensive, affordable and accessible, regardless of occupation or geographic area. Wisconsin Farmers Union commends the Supreme Court on its decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This is an important step to bringing necessary health care reform to our farmers, rural communities, and all Americans."



Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization, is committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors and civic engagement. 


// WFU Release: Wisconsin Farmers Union congratulates Senate on passing the Farm Bill and including key improvements
Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 21, 2012
Contact: Katy Phillips


Wisconsin Farmers Union congratulates Senate on passing the Farm Bill
and including key improvements


Chippewa Falls, WI - Wisconsin Farmers Union congratulates the Senate for passing the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act by a vote of 64-35. Farmers Union is especially pleased that after several days of intense debate, the Senate's Farm Bill now includes several key improvements that will promote and protect the economic and environmental health of our family farms and rural communities.

"The bipartisan Farm Bill reduces our deficit by $23 billion while still supporting 16 million American jobs," said Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden. "The bill preserves critical farm safety net programs, helps farmers manage risk, strengthens and streamlines conservation programs, continues feeding Americans in need, and continues critical investment in renewable energy and rural development."

Among notable amendments that are important to Wisconsin, Farmers Union commended the Senate for including the several key provisions in the Farm Bill:

•  Sen. Brown's (D-OH) amendment (# 2445) provides funding to aid in rural job creation and economic development, critical for the health of Wisconsin's rural communities.

•  Sen. Durbin (D-Ill) and Sen.Coburn's (R-OK) amendment (#2439) reduces crop insurance subsidies to farms with a gross adjusted income greater than $750,000. This will better target essential taxpayer support to farms that really need the safety net to stay in business providing food for Wisconsin and beyond.

•  Sen. Chambliss's (R-OH) amendment (#2438) requires conservation compliance in order to be eligible to buy crop insurance, better safeguarding Wisconsin's farmland.

"Rural economic development, sensible and fair farm subsidies and land conservation are among top priorities of Wisconsin Farmers Union. We are pleased that Senator Kohl supported all three amendments and Senator Johnson supported the Durbin-Coburn amendment," said Darin Von Ruden, Wisconsin Farmers Union President. "This legislation will help Wisconsin family farms and rural communities invest in new businesses, provide a fairer safety net for the risky business of providing food, and protect our valuable farmland."

"As the bill moves to the House, we look forward to working with our Representatives to continue to improve a Farm Bill critical to the economic and environmental health of our family farms and rural communities."



Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization, is committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors and civic engagement. 


// Boom in farmland prices might be nearing end
Wednesday, June 20, 2012

// Letter from Langdon: The Farm Bill Stew
Thursday, June 14, 2012

// WFU Release: University of Wisconsin-Platteville and Wisconsin Farmers Union to host German energy cooperative experts
Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June 12, 2012
Rose Smyrski, Legislative Liaison at the UW-Platteville, 608-342-1282 / smyrskir@uwplatt.edu
Kara Slaughter, Government Relations Director for Wisconsin Farmers Union, 608-514-4541 / kslaughter@wisconsinfarmersunion.com

University of Wisconsin-Platteville and Wisconsin Farmers Union to host 
German energy cooperative experts

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville will host two leading German cooperative experts on June 14, 2012, at 5:30 PM.   Dr. Andreas Wieg from the German Cooperative and Raiffeisen Confederation (DGRV) and Michael Diestel from Agrokraft, a rural electric cooperative in Bavaria, will share practical insights on how the low carbon energy transition can create new local and cooperative business opportunities. The event is part of the Midwest Clean Energy Tour, including stops in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, and is sponsored by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. Wisconsin Farmers Union has provided assistance with the Wisconsin leg of the tour.

Dr. Wieg and Mr. Diestel will be at UW-Platteville to continue building bridges with local leaders at the forefront of the renewable energy economy.  "They bring effective experience in renewable energy systems technologies and how they fit into business opportunities, which is also an especially great asset to UW-Platteville's new Sustainable and Renewable Energy Systems major," said Rose Smyrski, legislative liaison at UW-Platteville.

Dr. Wieg and Mr. Diestel will discuss the role that cooperatives are playing in Germany. They will address ways in which - through the cooperative model - renewable energy is spurring local business opportunities that can revitalize entire communities through good-paying jobs, tax revenue, strengthened community engagement and more. There is literally a small-town revolution underway where towns, villages and rural areas are striving to become more self-sufficient renewable energy communities.

"We are excited to hear about the role that farmers, cooperatives, and rural communities play in Germany's growing market for renewable energy, and how we might capture some of those opportunities here in Wisconsin," said Kara Slaughter, Government Relations Director for Wisconsin Farmers Union.

The Midwest Clean Energy Tour is part of the Climate Network, a program by the Heinrich Böll Foundation that brings together opinion leaders, legislators and policy experts from both sides of the Atlantic who are committed to achieving policy change in support of a low carbon economy agenda. The Tour is tied to the International Year of the Cooperative 2012.

The details for the UW-Platteville event are as follows:

Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 5:30 PM

University of Wisconsin-Platteville Pioneer Farm, 29250 College Farm Road, Platteville
(website: http://www.uwplatt.edu/pioneerfarm/)
Ag Tech Center, Room 105

Dr. Wieg and Mr. Diestel will also be presenting on Saturday, June 16th at 12-1 PM at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in Custer, WI.

For more information, contact:

Rose Smyrski, Legislative Liaison at the UW-Platteville, 608-342-1282 / smyrskir@uwplatt.edu

Kara Slaughter, Government Relations Director for Wisconsin Farmers Union, 608-514-4541 / kslaughter@wisconsinfarmersunion.com



// WFU among coalition calling for special session on campaign finance
Wednesday, June 06, 2012

// Where the Trough is Overflowing
Monday, June 04, 2012

// Stabenow Tees Up Farm Bill for Next Month
Thursday, May 24, 2012



// More groups back commodity program choices
Friday, May 18, 2012



// War vet advocates for young farmers
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

// Planting for the Future: Health and the Farm Bill
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

// WFU Release: More Isn't Always Better
Thursday, May 03, 2012

Spring is a good time to contemplate growth. Spring grasses are starting to emerge, seedlings stretch toward the light in the green house, and calves are putting on weight.

Growth is on the minds of folks in Madison as well. Elected officials of all stripes are looking for methods to revive our dormant economy. Every legislative or administrative proposal is couched in terms of its ability to "grow the economy" and to create jobs. One such effort is the recently announced Dairy 30 x 20 Initiative, which seeks to increase Wisconsin's annual milk production from 26 billion pounds to 30 billion pounds by 2020.

This has prompted me to think about prevailing notions of "growth" in our public discourse. Will simply adding pounds of milk to the economy provide the economic boost our communities need? What criteria might we use to judge an economic development proposal in addition to a simple measure of "growth?"

I'd like to suggest a few additional criteria by which to judge this and other economic proposals:

endurance: does the proposal result in ongoing economic activity, rather than just a short flurry of construction or other temporary jobs?

resiliency: does the proposal emphasize jobs and economic development that will endure even in challenging economic conditions, rather than a model that risks collapse or disinvestment when economic conditions change?

diversification: does the proposal make the overall economy more diverse, rather than putting all of our eggs in one basket?

generativity: does the proposal create local wealth that in turn gives rise to secondary and
tertiary business development, or will the profits from the project accrue primarily to investors who are outside the community or the state?

inclusivity: does the proposal provide opportunities for new business entrants, or is it focused primarily on incumbent businesses?

sustainability: does the proposal ensure that natural resources such as soil, water, and air are maintained for future generations?

responsibility: does the proposal internalize its own costs, rather than externalizing negative spill over effects onto outside parties or future generations? 

How does the Dairy 30X20 Initiative line up against these criteria?

The Dairy 30x20 Initiative has the potential to achieve a number of these goals, if implemented in a thoughtful manner. Let's be honest. If the only measure of success is pounds of milk, then the cheapest way to achieve that goal would probably be to add 500 more cows on each 5,000-cow dairy in the state.  But this approach would come at the expense of other more important goals: diversification, generativity, and inclusivity. The overall economic impact of such an approach would be much less than pursuing any number of other innovative strategies for developing, and not just growing, the dairy industry: developing new and better uses of whey, to transform it from a waste product to a valuable secondary product line, or using manure digesters to transform waste into energy and other valuable byproducts. Investing in on-farm cheese making and other processing enterprises. Encouraging organic production as an avenue for farmers to increase the value of what they are producing and be part of the fastest-growing sector of the food economy. Supporting programs like the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program and the School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers to bring new farmers into dairying.

By focusing on increasing the number of farmers and new farms, and not simply on the number of cows or pounds of milk, we will also be doing so much more: contributing to the vitality of rural communities, adding to the enrollment of rural schools, helping expand the percent of the population engaged in small business ownership rather than collecting a paycheck from someone else. 

It seems to me that at some point, we as individuals and we as a nation need to stop growing and start maturing. Babies grow; adults mature. If we confuse growth with maturation, we will pat ourselves on the back just for having a bigger waistline than we did at age 18! An economic strategy that pursues growth alone is like a non-stop Thanksgiving feast: in the end it will leave us bloated, sleepy, and not very nimble, with a whole mess of dishes to clean up.

We shouldn't simply be pumping dollars into mature sectors of our economy. There might be certain "baby" sectors within our economy that need help to grow and will require a lot of nurturing at first if they are ever to get on their feet. But there are other sectors, like much of the dairy sector, that are grown-ups already. Ironically, in the same year that the Department of Agriculture is putting $200,000 into "growing" the dairy industry, it lapsed $321,000 from the Agricultural Development and Diversification grant program and $200,000 from Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grants - two programs that exist to support new and developing sectors of the ag economy. 

We know that every dollar invested in BLBW grants generates five dollars of economic activity.  Similarly, Farmers Union recently had contact with a farmer who was poised to receive an ADD grant to begin growing peanuts - a crop that as it turns out is extremely well-suited to Wisconsin growing conditions, based on years of research by the UW - but the plans to launch that new enterprise were mothballed when the ADD grant funding was pulled. What would be the economic impact of developing an entirely new specialty crop and attendant processing industry in the state?

We should make sure, even in the dairy state, that our agricultural sector does not become a one-trick pony (or dairy cow, as the case may be). In the race to keep up with California milk production, we should remember that California is also a leader in wine, nut, fruit, and vegetable production. Just as individual farms benefit from diversification, so too does the agricultural sector as a whole. 

Just adding pounds to Wisconsin's dairy production is just too simplistic a measure for gauging and creating economic growth.


Darin Von Ruden

President, Wisconsin Farmers Union


// Cooperatives Key to Solving Food Insecurity
Thursday, May 03, 2012

// Wisconsin Farmers Union and National Farmers Union Honors WisconsinEye with the Milt Hakel Award for Excellence in Agricultural Journalism
Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Wisconsin Farmers Union President, Darin Von Ruden, along with NFU President Roger Johnson presented Chris Long, President and CEO of WisconsinEye Public Affairs Network, with the Milt Hakel Award - National Farmers Union's annual award presented to news organizations or reporters recognizing excellence in agricultural journalism.

Wisconsin Farmers Union nominated WisconsinEye for the Milt Hakel award because they provide real time access, cable and online, to unbiased, unfiltered and unedited civic and political news coverage. With the national and international focus on Wisconsin politics in 2011, WisconsinEye, a private, nonprofit statewide public affairs network, provided added substance to the conversation by covering the actual policy deliberations behind all of the debate, effectively serving as a state-level C-SPAN.

"WisconsinEye is important to our rural communities because they provide the opportunity for rural farmers and citizens to watch policy debates, as well as civic events, hearings and meetings," said WFU President Darin Von Ruden. "One example of this was in December, when the legislature held a hearing in Milwaukee about a controversial iron mine, even though the mine was proposed to be located on the opposite side of the state. Those who would be most affected by the mine, including farmers, were able to watch the hearing on WisconsinEye."

"Many of our members can't leave their farms for extended periods of time and can't always drive to where public hearings and events are held," said Von Ruden. "WisconsinEye helps level the playing field between urban and rural citizens when it comes to civic awareness and engagement, providing easier access to the Capitol, important public meetings and events across the state that are of critical interest to our members."

"Wisconsin Farmers Union is proud to honor WisconsinEye Public Affairs Network with the National Farmers Union Milt Hakel Award for excellence in agricultural journalism."

// WFU applauds the US Department of Labors decision to revise its child labor regulations
Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wisconsin Farmers Union applauds the US Department of Labor's decision to revise the "parental exemption" portion of its proposed regulations on child labor in agriculture. We hope that the Department will use this opportunity to make the rules more reflective of the variety of family ownership structures and youth work arrangements that characterize today's family farms.

Beyond simply revisiting the parental exemption portion of the proposed rules, however, Wisconsin Farmers Union also urges the Department of Labor to take a second look at the remaining portions of the proposed rules. Many of the concerns that we set forth in our previous statement still remain.

Wisconsin Farmers Union calls on the Department of Labor to take seriously the many concerns raised by farmers about the impact these proposed regulations would have on the ability of young people to get into farming through positive experiences working for their neighbors and members of their extended families.

// Wisconsin Farmers Union 81st Annual State Convention Stories of Rural Renewal
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wisconsin Farmers Union held its 81st Annual State Convention this past weekend, January 27-29, 2012 at the Plaza Hotel & Suites in Wausau. The theme of this year's convention, Rural Renewal - Building on Traditions, focused on the important connection between farmers and their rural communities. Wisconsin's countryside is always changing as farmers adapt to new markets, technologies and opportunities. Farmers Union recognizes that this spirit of innovation is most effective when it is connected to a fabric of shared values. Our farms and rural communities work best when they work together to create a diverse and vibrant local economy and culture.

One of the convention highlights was a special panel of WFU members sharing personal stories of innovative farming ventures. Through direct consumer marketing, unique organizational models, and value-added enterprises, they have each created a successful and entrepreneurial business model for their farms.

Tina and Duane Hinchley have been running Hinchley's Dairy Farm Tours for the past 14 years on their Dane County farm. Tina started the tours as a way to provide non-farmers, especially children, with an honest and positive look at how a typical 260 cow dairy farm operates. For many, this tour is their one and only farm experience and helps them understand that their food comes from farmers like Tina who have a commitment to efficient operation and high quality products.

Mike and Deb Hansen raise grass-fed beef, chicken, pork, lamb and turkey on their first generation 200 acre farm. They started a direct marketing business, Good Earth Farms in Milladore, and ship their products (along with products from five other farm neighbors) direct to homes from Maine to Hawaii. The idea for the farm and cooperative direct marketing business came out of a deep passion for good food and "loving every part of what they do."

The Holms Girls Dairy in Elk Mound, is a first generation farm, with the unique feature of having the dairy operation run by six sisters (starting when the oldest was only 11). The farm is a member of the Organic Valley Cooperative. Sarah and Erika Holm explained the challenge of starting out in dairying without any farming background, but developing the business through a lot of hard work, family cooperation, trial and error and advice from neighbors. The girls are also developing a direct marketing business of products to stores within the cooperative network of Organic Valley.

Rick Adamski and Val Dantoin, run their third generation dairy, Full-Circle Farm in Seymour. Also part of the Organic Valley Cooperative, they explained that every farm decision is based on nature - incorporating conservation, efficiency and renewals as much as possible. They practice managed rotational grazing, installed a solar water heater, wood pellet furnace and a 35kw wind turbine. They are proud to be the owner-operators because they are the land, labor, capital and management. As Rick says, "We see the value of labor diminishing. We work to restore the value of people."

Peter and Bernadette Seely own and operate Springdale Farm in Plymouth - one of the largest CSAs (Consumer Supported Agriculture) in the country and the first in the Midwest. They provide food for about 600 southeast Wisconsin households. Much of their success is due to a focus on relationship development among workers and customers, who also appreciate the farms' commitment to conservation and sustainable agricultural practices.

Robbi Bannen and Ted Fisher run a CSA and bakery called A to Z Produce & Bakery in Stockholm. They are also first generation farmers and grew their business out of a love of gardening and cooking. They built a brick oven and commercial kitchen on the farm and, on Tuesdays, they welcome people to come and buy homemade pizzas and bread. Through mostly word of mouth advertising, they now sell up to 300 pizzas every week. They call themselves "Pizza Farmers."

While each farm has different business models, they all share some common values of stewardship, a deep commitment to the health of their farms and the people they serve, a love of what they do, and a desire to preserve the viability of the family farm. As Robbi Bannen explained, "If you take your passion, take your experience, and think outside of the box a bit, anything can happen."

The weekend's events also included keynote speaker Stan Gruszynski, USDA Rural Development State Director for Wisconsin, who talked about the importance of local, state, and national civic engagement. In this era of deep budget cuts to rural development programs, schools, and local government, it is more critical than ever to be involved in seeking solutions for sustainable and equitable rural economies.

National agricultural columnist Alan Guebert was the featured banquet guest and reminded us that farmers should resist the current trend of being labeled as "producers" and instead embrace the title of "farmers." He pointed out that words and labels are important, in both how we see ourselves and how others see us. Farmers will gather increasing respect, he argued, if we keep a personal face on the work we do every day on our farms. Working to restore the value of people is essential to preserving the family farm and the WFU value of cooperative economies.

Attendees were invited to three workshops. Protecting your community rights -examples and tools explored effective options for supporting local participation and control regarding difficult issues such as power lines, sand mining, and CAFO siting. Organizing around the Farm Bill discussed the upcoming farm bill debate and how to organize support for WFU positions, and Farm to School Toolbox explained possibilities of connecting farmers directly with consumers through Farm to School programs.

Tina Hinchley, a dairy farmer from Dane County, was elected to the WFU Board of Directors. She replaces Richard Keller, who provided outstanding leadership and service to the WFU Board of Directors for 20 years.

Two WFU members, Ed Gorell, Eau Claire County Farmers Union President, and Cal Kraemer, retired Chippewa County UW-Extension Agriculture Resource Agent, were presented with the Builders Award for work in their counties building membership and giving service to Wisconsin Farmers Union.

// Sand Mining Conference Provides Support to Local Towns
Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On January 12, 2012, the Wisconsin Towns Association and Wisconsin Farmers Union are co-sponsoring a second full day conference on frac sand mining. This conference will provide another opportunity to participate for those unable to attend the sold-out conference held earlier on December 1st. The conference sessions will follow the same format and provide an overview of the industry and how and why it is coming into Wisconsin, with a focus on examining implications and issues for rural towns. Participants will hear from leading legal and environmental experts, learn how to ask the right questions, and understand how to take the right steps for their towns as they learn to deal with this new industry.

Sessions will cover a range of topics, including zoning, non-metallic mining ordinances, moratoriums and developers agreements. Participants will take home a comprehensive "toolbox" with background information, models, resource links and practical tools for use in their community.

The conference is open to both town officials and concerned residents. Participants will have an opportunity to share stories and examples of their experience in addressing mining issues and contacts with the industry. Information and resources from the initial December 1 conference is now available on-line through the Towns Association website.

"Local town officials are faced with many challenges, as they attempt to understand this fast-growing industry, balance a range of interests and make good choices for the long-term welfare of their towns and communities," said Rick Stadelman, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Towns Association..

"This is an important project for the Farmers Union, because so many of our members are raising questions about how this new industry will affect agriculture and our rural communities," said Tom Quinn, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. "The information at this conference is important not just for town officials, but for farmers, town residents, and any other interested individuals."

The conference will be held at the Plaza Hotel, 1202 W Clairemont Ave. in Eau Claire, on Thursday, January 12 from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. Registration is $25 per person, through December 29, and $35 per person after that. Lunch is included. Registration forms are available through the Wisconsin Towns Association. www.wisctowns.com and the Wisconsin Farmers Union www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com.

// Wisconsin Farmers Union Registers Concern over Overzealous Farm Labor Regulations
Wednesday, December 07, 2011

WFU has submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Labor opposing certain elements of proposed child safety regulations for agriculture and agriculture-related jobs.  WFU supports the goal of improving the safety of younger workers on farms, but feels that the proposed regulations might actually work against that goal by limiting opportunities for youth to learn farm safety skills in a supervised setting.

"In my own interactions with young people, I have observed that the younger kids are introduced to a task that is age-appropriate for them, the easier they pick it up and the safer and more confident they are.  If we can't teach 14- and 15-year-olds to operate a tractor in a supervised setting, how will they be prepared at age 16 to hop in a tractor and operate it all by themselves?" said Darin Von Ruden, Wisconsin Farmers Union president.  The proposed regulations would eliminate the current provision that allows 14- and 15-year-olds to operate tractors after completing a certified training course such as those offered by 4-H.

The regulations would also prohibit 14- and 15-year-olds from operating any power-driven equipment and performing many animal husbandry tasks on farms other than those owned by their parents.  "Some of these regulations, including those related to working with animals and with any kind of power-driven equipment, are out of touch with the reality on farms.  Every day, youth and teens are performing these tasks safely and without incident.  We all want to keep our kids safe, but we can't raise them in a bubble," Von Ruden said.

"The risk is that by excluding teens from opportunities for meaningful work on farms, we discourage them from considering farming as possible vocation," Von Ruden continued.  "Wisconsin Farmers Union believes that the best way to improve farm safety is to give youth the opportunity to learn alongside family members and neighbors throughout their formative years."

// Wisconsin Farmers Union Opposes Proposed AT&T/T-Mobile Merger
Friday, October 14, 2011

Wisconsin Farmers Union opposes the proposed buyout of T-Mobile by AT&T. "Wisconsin Farmers Union does not believe that an AT&T/T-Mobile merger will at all benefit a substantial portion of our membership who live in rural communities and may, in fact, result in even less wireless options for rural residents, " said Wisconsin Farmers Union President, Darin Von Ruden.

"It seems clear that the overall motivation of AT&T is to further reduce market competition, not to expand high-speed internet coverage in rural areas," said Von Ruden. "If expansion was the primary motivator, the merger shouldn't be necessary because AT&T already holds network spectrum covering 80% of the U.S. population. AT&T claims that the merger will enable them to reach 97% of the population. There are two things that appear misleading about this. First, is that the estimated cost of expansion to 97% is $3.8 billion. The cost of the T-Mobile buyout is $39 billion. A buyout, then, doesn't seem very cost effective."

"The other misleading part of this is that the 97% coverage they are talking about is just population, not area. So we are suspect that AT&T would be motivated to expand in less densely populated areas. There isn't much of a financial incentive to do so when they would already own almost 50% of the country's market."

"Don't get us wrong, Wisconsin Farmers Union understands that our rural residents need better wireless coverage. But we think this deal will only lead to putting small providers that do serve our rural communities out of business, leaving an already underserved population without access."

"If this merger goes through, AT&T and Verizon will dominate 80% of the wireless market, creating a virtual duopoly. The remaining major provider would be Sprint, with only a 20% market share. It's been difficult enough getting broad rural coverage having only four major players. Wisconsin Farmers Union does not see how things will improve for rural coverage when we're down to three. We suspect this proposed merger will only deliver empty promises."

// Wisconsin Farmers Union Urges Obama to Quickly Implement GIPSA Rule
Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wisconsin Farmers Union President, Darin Von Ruden, urged President Obama to implement the U.S. Department of Agriculture's proposed Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) rule as quickly as possible.

"This rule was proposed over a year ago, and the longer implementation is stalled, the more livestock operations we'll lose, " said Von Ruden. "Since 1980, nearly 90% of hog producers and 40% of beef producers have gone out of business. Without the GIPSA rule, the concentration of packing operations has led to an uncompetitive market, where smaller producers have not been paid a fair price."

"We need to preserve jobs in rural America. The GIPSA rule will help current and future family livestock farms stay in business by creating a fair and competitive marketplace," said Von Ruden. "When family livestock farms go out of business, local communities also lose income that would have been spent in the local grocery store, local hardware store, the local school system, and everywhere else in the local economy. When large corporate farms buy up the ranches and farms, often the profits end up in corporate offices elsewhere."

"President Obama needs to implement the GIPSA rule now, so our family farms can stay in business."

// Wisconsin Farmers Union Honors U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin
Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wisconsin Farmers Union President, Darin Von Ruden, along with National Farmers Union President ,Roger Johnson, and the Wisconsin Delegation for this week's Annual National Farmers Union Fly-In, presented U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin with the Golden Triangle Award. This award is the National Farmers Union's highest legislative award recognizing congressional leadership on behalf of family farmers and rural communities.

"Wisconsin Farmers Union appreciates the support Representative Baldwin has given to our farmers and rural communities, particularly with her involvement in early discussions for the next farm bill and working to protect agriculture from even deeper cuts during budget negotiations earlier this year," said Von Ruden. "Representative Baldwin is a strong voice for Wisconsin and we greatly value her leadership."

The Golden Triangle Award is presented each year to select members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in recognition of their leadership on issues important to rural America.

// Wisconsin Farmers Union Honors U.S. Senator Herb Kohl
Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wisconsin Farmers Union President, Darin Von Ruden, presented Senator Herb Kohl with the Friend of the Family Farmer Award for his career-long service as an ally of National Farmers Union. The award was presented during this week's National Farmers Union Annual Legislative Fly-In in Washington, D.C.

"Wisconsin Farmers Union appreciates Senator Kohl's support during his time in office, and we are pleased to recognize Senator Kohl with this honor. He has been a champion for farmers and rural Americans and has been a friend of Wisconsin Farmers Union for many years, " said Darin Von Ruden.

Since first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1988, Senator Kohl has received National Farmers Union's Golden Triangle Award eight times. Among the many committees on which he serves, Senator Kohl is currently the chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

The Friend of the Family Farmer Award is presented annually to two retiring members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in recognition of their lifetime leadership on issues important to rural America.

// Farm Bill Forums with U.S. Representative Ron Kind
Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wisconsin Farmers Union, the Center for Rural Affairs, and UW Extension - Jackson are hosting two forums with U.S. Representative Ron Kind to discuss area needs concerning the next Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill impacts programs and economic structures on which Wisconsin farmers rely - crop insurance, small business assistance, nutrition and school lunches, subsidies, conservation, rural development, and much more.

This is an opportunity to speak directly with Congressman Kind about the many ways the Farm Bill affects Wisconsin farms and to provide input as Congress designs the 2012 bill.

Join the Center for Rural Affairs, UW Extension-Jackson, Wisconsin Farmers Union, and Congressman Ron Kind for an open discussion about Wisconsin's needs in the next Farm Bill.

Tuesday, Aug. 30th, 3:30pm
Western Technical College, Room 115
220 South Main Street, Viroqua

Thursday, Sept. 1st, 3pm
American Legion Hall
421 Highway 54, Black River Falls

To RSVP, contact Kara Slaughter at (608) 514-4541 or kslaughter@wisconsinfarmersunion.com

Light refreshments will be provided.

// Wisconsin Farmers Union Lauds Passage of Senate Bill on Competitive Livestock Markets
Monday, August 08, 2011

Darin Von Ruden, President of Wisconsin Farmers Union, commended the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations for passing an agricultural appropriations bill that preserves the implementation of the USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule.

"Wisconsin Farmers Union is very pleased that Senator Herb Kohl, Chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, as well as the rest of the committee, kept the GIPSA rule in the Ag Appropriations Bill sent to the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations," said Von Ruden.

"The GIPSA rule will help level the playing field for independent family farmers raising livestock by creating a fair market environment in the industry, making sure small producers have equal access to the market as larger producers. This will enable more fair and competitive trading practices."

Von Ruden explains that "the bulk of the meat consumed in the U.S. comes from only four large, powerful companies - Tyson, Smithfield, Cargill and Brazilian beef-packer, JBS. These companies have tremendous power to dictate not just what meat is available, but how that meat is raised. They are in the business of selling cheap meat which means they pay their farmer-suppliers as little as possible for their livestock. Without GIPSA, these large meat-packers have been able to dictate the market which has been especially harmful to smaller-scale farmers."

"We'll see what happens when the House and Senate bills are reconciled. But, today, we laud Senator Herb Kohl, the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations for preserving the implementation of GIPSA in the Senate's Agriculture Appropriations bill."

// Cure Worse Than the Disease
Friday, July 15, 2011

National Milk Producers Federation has come up with a plan called Foundation for the Future that attempts to fix what is broken in U.S. dairy policy. Congressman Collin Peterson, Ranking Member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture, is also promoting this approach in his dairy reform proposal. However, as any good doctor knows, you have to correctly diagnose the problem before prescribing the cure.

The Foundation for the Future plan assumes that the dairy industry's primary ailments are occasional spikes in feed costs, and occasional dips in export markets.  Those just happened to be the immediate factors that triggered the dairy crisis in 2009, and now NMPF is scrambling to put a band-aid on those problems.  But the underlying wound that has been systematically bleeding the profitability out of dairy farms for 20 years is increasing industry consolidation and monopolistic behavior by processors and retailers.

Four companies currently dominate the fluid milk and cheese processing market in the U.S. - Dean Foods, Kraft Foods North America, Saputo Inc., and Land O'Lakes Inc.. In 2002 (latest data available), the combined market share of these top four firms was 35% for cheese processing and 43% for fluid milk processing (Congressional Research Service report for Congress, April 2011). The more market share they control, the more they are able to drive farm milk prices down.  Regulators are finally starting to wake up to the fact that these companies are exerting monopoly power in dairy markets, as evidenced by the successful 2009 lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice and Attorneys General from Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin against Dean Foods for violating federal anti-trust laws.

The retail sector has also become vastly more consolidated than it was 20 years ago.  According to University of Connecticut Agricultural Economics Professor Ronald Cotterill, the grocery store profit margin on dairy products has increased from 20% to 45% over the past 20 years.  It used to be that grocery stores competed with each other to offer the lowest price for a gallon of milk.  Low milk prices got customers in the door, and that competition was good for consumers.  But as Wal-Mart and other large chains have gobbled up their smaller competitors, that retail competition has evaporated, with predictable results on price.

The widening gap between what farmers receive and what consumers pay represents corporate profit for monopolistic processor and retailers.  Even in 2009, there was plenty of room for farmers to make more while consumers paid even less.  But it would have required a reduction in the hefty profits taken by dairy processors and retailers in between.

So now that we've diagnosed the real problem, we should ask whether National Milk's plan makes the situation better.  The clear answer is no.  In addition to doing nothing to reverse consolidation in the dairy processing and retail sectors, Foundation for the Future would actually accelerate consolidation in the dairy production sector, by favoring the nation's largest mega-dairies at the expense of family farms.

A 100-cow dairy - the average dairy farm in Wisconsin - would actually do worse under National Milk's plan than the status quo.  Talk about a cure that is worse than the disease!  An analysis by the Midwest Dairy Coalition shows that if the Foundation for the Future plan had been in place from 2002-2009, an average 100-cow dairy farm would have lost $59,000 due to the elimination of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program.  By contrast, an average 1,000-cow dairy farm would have gained $159,900, and an average 10,000-cow dairy farm would have gained a whopping $2,589,900 under Foundation for the Future's government-subsidized margin insurance program.  Foundation for the Future's model is designed to work best for a large-scale dairy where most feed is purchased.  Rewarding farms that adopt a model of more and more cows and greater and greater reliance on purchased feed is a recipe for more risk and uncertainty, rather than less.

Do we need dairy reform? Absolutely. Is Foundation for the Future the way to go?  Absolutely not.  Any robust solution for dairy reform must start with strong antitrust enforcement action against processors and retailers that manipulate dairy prices or use their market power to squeeze producers and consumers. Foundation for the Future is silent in this regard.

Any dairy reform proposal should also include the following elements:

  • A pricing system that guarantees dairy farmers a floor price for their milk.
  • A common-sense strategy for preventing over-supply.
  • Market transparency reform.
  • Including a consumer price index component as part of the formula for calculating the milk price paid to farmers.

All of these factors are absent or lacking in the Foundation for the Future plan, and is why Wisconsin Farmers Union, along with National Farmers Union, does not support this dairy reform proposal. This proposal only treats a few symptoms without getting to the underlying reasons that family farms are becoming less and less profitable; the unrestrained consolidation and monopolistic practices of large scale dairies. We believe this is the real disease.

// Wisconsin Farmers Union Hires New Executive Director
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden announced today that Tom Quinn, has been hired to fill the position of executive director for the organization. Quinn has a long history of work on farm and rural issues, including serving on the Board of the Wisconsin Farmers Union Foundation. He is currently Director of Economic Asset Programs at West CAP, a regional community development program serving seven counties in west central Wisconsin.

"Tom will bring valuable experience in organizational development and management to this position," Von Ruden said, "along with a proven passion for farm and rural life issues. We are excited to have someone like Tom, with a history of commitment to Farmers Union, to help grow our organization and continue to provide excellent service to our members on a day-to-day basis."

As executive director, Quinn will be managing the overall operations of the WFU State Office, located in Chippewa Falls, Wis., and will help to develop new initiatives in cooperative development and membership services. As President, Von Ruden will continue serving as the primary spokesperson and direct leadership for the organization.

WFU is a general farm organization that provides educational opportunities and legislative services to its members. The organization has nearly 1,500 member families across the state, including family farmers, rural residents and consumers.

"It is a great honor to have an opportunity to work for an organization that I respect and appreciate as much as Farmers Union. Having a prosperous rural America that is based on sound use of our natural resources is more important than ever, and Farmers Union's sense of mission and policy in support of family agriculture and small towns is exactly what is needed. I am especially excited about emerging opportunities to grow our membership and to foster cooperative development strategies in renewable energy and local food systems," Quinn said.

Quinn, a former dairy farmer, first joined Farmers Union as a member over 30 years ago. His family was one of three young Wisconsin farm couples chosen to participate in the American Farm Project, an effort by National Farmers Union to connect young farmers from around the country in shared learning about the history of farm policy and rural culture. Quinn carried those experiences into his work as executive director of the National League of Rural Voters and the Wisconsin Farmland Conservancy. His recent work at West CAP has included business development support for numerous rural cooperatives.

In addition, Quinn serves on the Dunn County Board of Supervisors and the Dunn County Economic Development Corporation. He is also a board member of the Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund and the River Country Resource, Conservation and Development Council.

Quinn will begin his position with Wisconsin Farmers Union in July, and can be reached at tquinn@wisconsinfarmersunion.com.

// Wisconsin Farmers Union Opposes Korea - U.S. Free Trade Agreement Urges Congress to Vote Against It
Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Free trade agreements have always promised to deliver prosperity, but the reality is that they historically have been a bad deal for American workers and farmers, resulting in overall job and revenue losses. These agreements typically increase imports rather than open up new markets for U.S. goods. The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement appears to be no different," says Wisconsin Farmers Union President, Darin Von Ruden.

As predicted by the U.S. International Trade Commission and the Economic Policy Institute, the Korea-U.S. FTA will lead to a net loss of 159,000 American jobs and increase our trade deficit by $16 billion over the next seven years.

Another weakness of the Korea-U.S. FTA is the lack of provisions to safeguard against currency manipulation. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, South Korea has had a history of undervaluing their currency, which could eliminate any financial benefits for U.S. exports by minimizing U.S. tariffs to the point of non-profitability.

Additionally, this trade agreement does not adequately meet the standards of the International Labor Organization Conventions or meet U.S. standards for health, environment and food safety; all of which are cornerstones of Wisconsin Farmers Union's policies. Also, U.S. trade agreements prohibit the use of "Buy America" and "Buy Local" procurement policies with respect to food and other products.

It is for these reasons that Wisconsin Farmers Union strongly opposes the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and urges Congress to do the same. "We feel our legislative leaders should be protecting and promoting American jobs, family farms and our rural communities through sound economic, environmental and labor policies. We don't think this trade agreement adequately promotes these values," says Von Ruden.

// Wisconsin Farmers Union Looking to the Future
Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On Friday, July 1st, 2011, Wisconsin Farmers Union, in partnership with National Farmers Union and the Heinrich Böll Foundation, is traveling through the state on a Renewable Energy Tour.

We're heading out on an electric-biodiesel hybrid bus to visit a few farms and businesses to learn about their production and use of renewable transportation fuels - biodiesel, straight vegetable oil, and biogasoline. We will also have presentations on wind and solar technologies.

Wisconsin Farmers Union is looking to the future and learning ways we can reduce transportation costs, reduce our dependence on oil and coal, and help grow a greener economy that better financially benefits our local farmers and environment.

Join Wisconsin Farmers Union members, farmers and rural neighbors as we travel along with renewable energy entrepreneurs, legislators/staff, agricultural and environmental officials, scientists, educators, and members of the press on this great tour!

To reserve your space on the bus, contact Kara Slaughter: 608-514-4541 or kslaughter@wisconsinfarmersunion.com.

This is a FREE event thanks to the generous support of The Energy Foundation.

WFU Media


Wisconsin Farmers Union President, Darin Von Ruden's Weekly Message on the Bob Bosold Morning Farm Program

// August 29, 2013
// May 9, 2013
// May 3, 2013
// March 29, 2013


// National Farmers Union & Hastings Mutual

// Renewable Energy Tour


Read the latest Wisconsin Farmers Union newsletters.

// July 2014
// June 2014
// May 2014
// April 2014
// February 2014

Agricultural Resources

Other Links

// National Farmers Union

// USDA: Farm Service Agency

// USDA: Rural Development

// USDA: Natural Resources & Conservation

// Organics in the News

// WI Department of Agriculture, Trade,
   and Consumer Protection

// WI Department of Natural Resources

// UW - Cooperative Extension


// Churches' Center for Land & People
   (Responsible for the Meals for Hope
   and Harvest for Hope programs)

// Discovery Farms Research Project
   (UW - Extension and UW - Madison)

// Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
   (A UW - Madison research center)

// Focus on Energy
   (A partnership of WI utilities companies)

Buying Local

// Local Harvest
   (Largest resource on the Internet)

// Farm Fresh Atlas: Western Wisconsin

// Farm Fresh Atlas: Southern Wisconsin

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