More than 750 North Dakota Farmers Union members participated in the organization’s 91st annual state convention Dec. 15-16 in Bismarck. A mix of educational speakers, entertainment, elections, youth achievement recognition, and policy debate highlighted the event.
Velva farmer Mark Watne was reelected president of the state’s largest farm organization, a position he has held since 2013. Terry Borstad of Devils Lake, Wes Niederman of Sioux County, and Ronda Throener of Cogswell were reelected to the board of directors. Of special note were three special orders of business that were adopted by delegates.
The first called on Congress and the Trump administration to implement emergency action to alleviate the ongoing farm crisis. Low commodity prices, catastrophic drought, and increasing interest rates have made it difficult for many farmers to obtain operating capital for 2018, especially for young and beginning farmers. The special order called for short-term low interest loans, temporary waiving of cash-flow and collateral requirements for FSA operating loans, and increased disaster payments.
Farmers Union members also called for increased use of ethanol, specifically E30 to be used in state fleet vehicles. Watne said tests show E30 to be the best blend for maximizing fuel economy and cost. “We believe if auto owners try E30 for one week, they will see better performance than with regular unleaded fuel. Every time ethanol goes in the tank, it helps stimulate the rural economy,” he said.
Delegates also called on the state legislature to reassess its elimination of the state’s 12 percent property tax buydown, calling for a legislative fix. Since 2007, the state has provided more than $2 billion in property tax relief through the buydown and K-12 school aid formula. Many counties are facing significant property tax increases, which will affect farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp addressed the implications of federal tax cuts to the bottom line of family farmers and ranchers, when she spoke to convention-goers. “The tax bill we are advancing really focuses on getting money to the richest Americans,” she said. “If this blows up the budget, it could result in billions in cuts” to farm programs, marketing programs and ag research. “It’s wrong for rural America,” she said.
Sen. John Hoeven sent video greetings from Washington, D.C. Tom Brusegaard of Sen. Hoeven’s office spoke about a fix to Sec. 199 in proposed tax legislation that would impact cooperatives and producers.
Miss America Cara Mund, the first Miss North Dakota to wear the crown of royalty, spoke to the 2017 Torchbearer Class. She encouraged young people to never stop believing in themselves and shared her journey to becoming Miss America. Twenty youths earned the Torchbearer award, the highest honor that can be achieved in the Farmers Union youth program.
Recipients, listed by county, include:
BARNES – Nita Peterson, Valley City. BOWMAN – Michaela Fischer, Bowman. BURLEIGH – Ben Wood, Lincoln. CASS – Riley Lebahn, West Fargo. EMMONS – Katherine Theisgen, Strasburg, and Mya Vetter, Linton. LAMOURE – Shaun Heier, Edgeley. MCLEAN – Jaden Reiser, Turtle Lake. MORTON – Mary Westberg, St. Anthony. MOUNTRAIL – Jessica Rosencrans, Powers Lake. STARK – Shaylyn Lefor, Gladstone, and Gracie Morel, Dickinson. STUTSMAN – Madisyn Kleven, Medina, Dalton Lacina, Ypsilanti, and Alyssa Michel, Jamestown. WARD – Elizabeth Geyer, Minot, Sydney Larson, Norwich, and Payton Smith, Minot. WELLS – Nicole Willey, Cathay. WILLIAMS – Cassidy Donnelly, Ray.