Montana Farmers Union Wins National Awards
Montana Farmers Union members and leaders took center stage, receiving awards and participating in key roles during National Farmers Union’s 121st annual convention recently in San Francisco.
“I am proud of the Montana Farmers Union delegation at the NFU convention. They were all actively engaged in the policy debate, playing rolls in negotiating compromise with delegates from other states to get policy resolutions into policy,” MFU president Walter Schweitzer said. MFU members are engaged in their communities and NFU year round. Their dedicated work was rightly recognized nationally, Schweitzer added. “Montana was well represented and had a major impact at the NFU convention,” he said.
Mark and Heather Siderius received the Bruce Miller Award for their work in building the Flathead MFU Local from less than 10 active members to more than 30 and tackling issues from ag land development to meat processing capacity.
The Bruce Miller Award recognizes members who display a passion for family farming and rural America, while promoting Farmers Union’s work.
“We were starting a local because it was the right thing to do – just to provide that service and connection for our community,” Mark said.
The couple was quick to pass credit to others, including MFU Ambassadors for their support and the broad interest from area producers.
The connections and interest have been the most rewarding part of their efforts, Heather said.
“It’s great to see the interest and other people stepping up and actually wanting to be involved,” she said.
Teton County Farmers Union also was recognized during NFU’s convention with a Leadership Award for meeting certain requirements, including increased membership.
“It just shows how we’re trying to remain active in our community and make sure Farmers Union is out there and being a leader, whether it’s adult education or youth education, we’re there trying to make sure that people know the opportunities are out there,” said Erik Somerfeld, the local’s president.
Blayne and Ron Watts of Watts Agency also were honored with the Membership Award, which recognizes members who recruit both new and lapsed members into the Farmers Union family.
Several MFU members played key roles during convention.
Paul Neubauer served on NFU’s policy committee, which reviewed the grassroots organization’s policy over the past several months and heard proposed changes from members around the country.
“It was an invaluable learning experience to see how policy that makes perfect sense for us in Montana might negatively impact fellow producers in South Dakota and vice-versa,” Neubauer said.
“Working on the NFU policy committee was an honor and, honestly, a lot of fun. I love engaging with policy and rule-making with the best interest of family farmers in mind,” he added.
MFU board member Sarah Degn has served on the NFU policy committee in the past, but this year, she participated in the convention as a Next Generation Advisory Representative to the NFU board. Degn also moderated a panel focused on youth advocacy and involvement, on which MFU Member Services Director Rachel Prevost was a panelist.
“The panel offered a lot of insight on ways to engage the next generation, and I learned a lot from other panelists as well. Panels like this are a great step to bring next generation producers to the table and hear ideas and make sure they are represented in rural communities and policy making spaces. Ag advocacy and telling the story of family farmers is essential,” Prevost said.
In all the roles they played at NFU’s convention, MFU delegates were well-received and represented Montana agriculture well at the national conference. Their work to advocate for family farmers and ranchers and rural communities continues long after the convention ends, Schweitzer said.
“This congress will be passing a new Farm Bill, and the policy crafted at this year’s convention — with Montana producers’ input at multiple levels — has built a solid foundation that Farmers Union members can use to advocate for Fairness for Farmers when educating our nation’s leaders,” he said.