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Tribal advocates keep up legal pressure for fair political maps; 12-member jury sworn in for Trump's historic criminal trial; the importance of healthcare decision planning; and a debt dilemma: poll shows how many people wrestle with college costs.

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Civil rights activists say a court ruling could end the right to protest in three southern states, a federal judge lets January 6th lawsuits proceed against former President Trump, and police arrest dozens at a Columbia University Gaza protest.

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Rural Wyoming needs more vocational teachers to sustain its workforce pipeline, Ohio environmental advocates fear harm from a proposal to open 40-thousand forest acres to fracking and rural communities build bike trail systems to promote nature, boost the economy.

New Mexico panelists tackle food, farming and fairness

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Monday, March 4, 2024   

Food, farming and fairness will be the topics in Albuquerque this week, at a gathering of those who support the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act.

The legislation is meant to reform what are known as agriculture checkoff programs.

Introduced decades ago, checkoff programs started as a way for farmers to pool their resources for research and promotion of their products.

But now, critics charge they're being used by corporate lobbyists to consolidate wealth and power into ever fewer hands.

In New Mexico, cattle rancher Cash Carruth is one of many forced to pay into the checkoff program, which he said favors corporations that control the meat-packing industry.

"You have four main packers that pretty much dictate our pricing on our cattle," said Carruth. "So, what's actually happening in the cattle industry is, they've outsmarted us."

A diverse group of panelists will address the checkoff programs and others they see as systemic injustices in the farming industry at a meeting this Wednesday, March 6.

They'll also cover racial discrimination and high suicide rates among farmers. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at Albuquerque's First Congregational United Church of Christ.

Event organizer and Assistant Executive Director of New Mexico & El Paso Interfaith Power and Light Clara Sims said she thinks the OFF Act would level the playing field.

She said farmers, ranchers and other producers need the restrictions included in the bill, because they've seen their checkoff dollars squandered or used against their interests.

"They really don't benefit a lot of farmers and actually work against a lot of farmers," said Sims, "because that money disproportionately benefits large industrial ag."

Despite the good intentions, Carruth said he believes a lack of oversight by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has even allowed corruption in the checkoff program.

"We don't know exactly how the money's being spent," said Carruth. "And I'm not against the checkoff. But now, we've built this whole big organization off of our dollars, and they use it as they see fit - and what they see fit is whatever the packers want."



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