Of the more than 100 members in Northwest Colorado, the 12 members of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union who met Monday gave evidence of a dying organization but the decisions those 12 made may bring it back to life.
Members of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) in Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties met in Hayden to discuss the future of the organization in Northwest Colorado. They voted unanimously to combine the membership in the three counties to form a Northwest Farmers Union in an attempt to rejuvenate the group.
"I think it will give you a bigger pool of people to help seek out some new leadership," said Ashley Krest, northwest field manager for RMFU. "We'd love to have an active organization up here in the northwest corner again."
The group elected a president, a vice president from each county, and a secretary/treasurer.
John Allen is the group's vice president from Moffat County and Terry Doherty was elected secretary/treasurer.
"It's going to spread us out quite a bit, but I think we could handle it," said Raymond Gay, former president of the Routt County Farmers Union.
The Routt County group had $2,000 on hand at the time of the merger, money it will give to the tri-county group.
"We'll see if we can't perk up things a little bit," Gay said. "It's about time we got some new blood in here moving things along."
The group is required to meet quarterly. The first meeting was not set.
"There's a lot of potential here and it's real important we hear from you," said John Stence, RMFU president.
Stence traveled from Denver for the meeting to give members an update on what the RMFU has been doing.
This year is the 100th anniversary of Farmers Union and the group boasts more than 300,000 members nationwide. The organization has been instrumental in the passage of legislation that allowed for the organization of cooperatives and the agriculture act that later became the farm bill of 1955.
This year, effort was put into the passage of the 2002 farm bill.
"The farm bill we have today isn't everything we wanted, but the Farmers Union took the lead in making it what it is," Stence said. "We worked very hard to get some of the things we needed passed."
The Farmers Union created a drought task force and a water task force after experiencing this summer's drought.
It was charted as the worst drought the country has seen in more than a century, causing more than 50 percent of Colorado's livestock to be sold early. Thirty-eight percent less wheat was harvested this year and 30 to 40 percent of producers are in severe financial trouble and will go out of business without assistance, Stence said.
"You just can't let that many farmers and ranchers go out of business. They need that assistance," he said.
The Farmers Union lobbied Congress for the passage of a $6 billion crop and livestock emergency assistance package for losses sustained in 2001-2002. It was passed in the Senate, but the House did not act on it before breaking for Thanksgiving.
"If we wait until the new Congress is seated, it'll be too late," Stence said.
Part of the formation of a local Farmers Union means there will be support from this part of the state when Congress reconvenes and Stence recommended one of the local group's first steps be advocating the package through letter writing, e-mails or telephone calls.
He also suggested the group work to increase membership from small-acreage producers. Of the state's 29,000 farmers and ranchers, more than 10,000 are small-acreage producers and their membership and input are key to keeping agriculture sustainable, Stence said.
"It's going to be a tough legislative session," he said.
More than 90 bills dealing with water are expected, with conflicting interests each lobbying for their water needs.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.