Washington, D.C.—At its 81st Annual Meeting in Santa Barbara, California, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives last week launched a campaign to tell the story of this country’s 2500 farmer cooperatives to policy makers, government officials, and the American public. Based around the theme of “Farmer Cooperatives: Providing for America”, the campaign will emphasize the central role that co-ops play in preserving the family farm, supporting the rural economy, and bringing innovative products to consumers in the U.S. and around the world.
“From corner groceries, to superstores, to school lunch programs, farmer cooperatives provide the affordable, abundant food, fiber and fuel that America needs,” said NCFC President & CEO Chuck Conner in his speech to attendees. “Through our ‘Farmer Co-ops: Providing for America’ campaign, NCFC will be carrying these messages and more to policy makers, government officials and the American public.”
NCFC launches the campaign with the first Department of Justice (DOJ)/U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) workshop on antitrust issues in agriculture a little over a month away, on March 12 in Ankeny, Iowa. NCFC and its members maintain that the officials holding the workshops must realize that the Capper-Volstead Act, which provides limited antitrust immunity to farmers forming co-ops, is a cornerstone to ensuring competition in agriculture and a vibrant rural economy. Without Capper-Volstead, farmer co-ops could not exist, and any two farmers coming together to talk about price would face harsh civil and criminal antitrust penalties.
“The DOJ/USDA hearings on antitrust in agriculture may seem harmless, but I can tell you this—the officials with DOJ are questioning the very foundation of farmer cooperatives—the Capper-Volstead Act,” Conner continued. “Our job is to tell the true stories of co-ops, and the benefits that they provide to their farmer-owners, to their local rural communities, and to consumers in the U.S. and around the world. In doing this, we aim to ensure that our children and grandchildren can continue farming in partnership with their co-ops.”
Conner also explained NCFC’s unease with the hearings and their probable focus on farmer co-ops.
“In fact, Christine Varney, the head of Justice’s Antitrust Division, said in sworn congressional testimony, that the Capper-Volstead Act ‘might not be the right law for the state of the industry at this time’ and could revoke it,” said Conner said. “This statement leads me to believe that Varney and others at DOJ think that individual farmers can compete, without their co-ops, with the huge, multinational corporations up and down the value chain.”
Also addressing NCFC’s meeting were former Secretary of Agriculture John Block, who gave attendees an overview of the public policy issues that will be faced by agriculture over the course of 2010. Block, who still works his family farm in Illinois, also emphasized the need for the member-owner of farmer cooperatives to become active partners with NCFC and other trade associations in putting a farmer face on agriculture.
Since 1929, NCFC has been the voice of America’s farmer cooperatives. Our members are regional and national farmer cooperatives, which are in turn composed of nearly 3,000 local farmer cooperatives across the country. NCFC members also include 26 state and regional councils of cooperatives. Farmer cooperatives allow individual farmers the ability to own and lead organizations that are essential for continued competitiveness in both the domestic and international markets.
America’s farmer-owned cooperatives provide a comprehensive array of services for their members. These diverse organizations handle, process and market virtually every type of agricultural commodity. They also provide farmers with access to infrastructure necessary to manufacture, distribute and sell a variety of farm inputs. Additionally, they provide credit and related financial services, including export financing.