Group calls failure to pass farm bill 'unacceptable'
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Grange members at their annual convention demanded that Congress pass a new farm bill quickly and address the crisis facing the dairy industry.
"I think it's unacceptable that Congress has failed to pass a farm bill," Grange President Ed Luttrell told members Nov. 13 during annual address to the group's 146th national convention.
Luttrell said the group is waging an aggressive campaign to encourage its 160,000 members to demand Congress pass a farm bill during the lame duck session.
"The impact of agriculture on this country ... is dramatic and far-reaching, and for Congress to make it a partisan football is really unacceptable," he said. "Every representative, every senator needs to be told, America needs a farm bill."
The Grange is the nation's oldest non-profit organization that advocates for agriculture and rural America and includes 160,000 members in 38 states. Washington and Oregon rank No. 1 and 2 in Grange membership, while California is fourth.
The need for a farm bill was one of the hot topics during the Nov. 13-17 convention, which attracted about 500 members.
More than anything, farmers need a farm bill so they can have some certainty, said Jim Foster, a member of the group's agricultural committee.
"If you have no farm bill, you don't know where to turn," he said. "We need a farm bill and we need it now."
The struggling U.S. dairy industry was another focus of the convention and Grange members passed policy supporting domestic producers.
"There's hardly a region in the country where dairy isn't having serious problems," Luttrell said. "The Grange demands that the crisis facing dairying be addressed to ensure that the American dairyman not only survives, but prospers."
Voting delegates applauded when Luttrell called for widespread agricultural education at the primary and post-secondary levels.
"Right now most public schools have absolutely no agricultural component," said Grange Legislative Director Grace Boatright, who has set mandatory ag education in the classroom as a goal.
Boatright said the average person's lack of basic knowledge about agriculture has left them susceptible to messages from anti-agriculture groups.
"We need to keep people informed of the importance of agriculture ... and get them to follow the science of it instead of the opinion of it," said ag committee member Phil Prelli.
The group's voting delegates also passed a policy in support of lean finely textured beef, which some media have dubbed "pink slime."
Ag committee member Joe Fryman said that support was necessary because of the bad rap the product has gotten recently.
"You put 'slime' on anything and half the people are turned off right there," he said. "It's really damaged the beef industry as a whole."
Ag committee members quashed a proposed policy that would have supported the labeling of products containing genetically modified organisms.
Biotechnology will continue to be controversial, "but that is what it's going to take to increase production and feed the growing masses in the future," said committee member Jimmy Gentry.