General farm organizations usually polarize to the left or right.
National Farmers Union leans left and identifies with family farms, government guarantees and a regulatory framework that restricts growth of agribusiness. In recent years, however, they have moved into the mainstream, but kept their relationship with Democrats.
A talk with the Washington lobbyist for National Farmers Union.
Ken Root: Let’s talk to one of the farm organizations that has not changed its name: National Farmers Union. (I’m joined) by Rob Larew, National Farmers Union senior vice president of public policy and communications. You have become a more known organization over the last several years. To what do you attribute that?
Rob Larew: We are (an) aggressive farm organization, and it’s all about family farmers. So depending on where you are at, whether it is Iowa or anywhere else in the Midwest or even anywhere across the country, it’s about family farmers coming together and coming up with real solutions, real ideas to not only support each other, but also affect positive change in Washington, D.C., for the benefit of family farms and not necessarily corporate interests.
We see much pressure these days on consolidation, which is putting pressure on these rural communities and family farmers. We’re trying to push back on that.
Ken Root: The president of your organization, your chief executive officer, is a pretty real world guy. He knows agriculture from a North Dakota perspective and speaks pretty clearly on many areas that are kind of in parallel with the other organizations just from your perspective
Rob Larew: The fact is that family farmers, wherever you are, whatever organization you belong to, you know the same pressures out there. There is much uncertainty and farmers are used to dealing with uncertainty, whether it’s weather, et cetera. But when you add on top of that trade wars, consolidation and a lot of other pressures, it just makes it a real problem.
Ken Root: I consider you a bit more left-wing leaning and more Democrat. Has that benefited you at times? I know some other organizations who’ve had trouble dealing with the Democrat administration, but you guys don’t seem to have as much trouble with members of Congress and others that may have a different point of view.
Rob Larew: We certainly try to work across the aisle, bipartisan wherever possible. We are willing to work with anybody who has family farmers and rural communities in their best interest. And if to the extent that, that means we have better relationships with one side or the other, I think it really depends on where you’re at and the individual members. We certainly have strong supporters on both sides of the aisle and I think that speaks to, again, being focused on that farmer-based system there and what it is that they need and want at this time. That’s probably been our biggest strength.
Ken Root: One last question, if you want to answer it. Collin Peterson sold his condo in Washington, D.C., and that may have given an indication that he doesn’t want to go through what it’ll take to produce another farm bill. What do you think?
Rob Larew: Anybody who places bets on whether or not Collin Peterson is hanging it up, that’s not a good bet by any stretch. People have been trying to make that call for lots of different reasons. The fact is that Collin never makes that decision until early in the year of the election. And he’s also one to never walk away from a challenge on foreign policy. So, I wouldn’t vote him out right now.