BILLINGS, Mont. – The National Farmers Union is taking some big steps to try to make sure America's family farmers and ranchers survive and prosper, keeping their way of live active in the 21st Century.

Farm families have weathered some rough times in recent years, and the struggle is not over for some. The National Farmers Union announced it is launching a campaign to keep family farmers and ranchers on the land at the organization's 102nd national convention being held in Billings.

The Farmers Union, which represents more than a quarter of a million family farmers and ranchers across America, has set its sights on building a new think tank at its educational center in Bailey, Colo., that will enable the best minds in agriculture, government, academia and technology to come together to develop a new economic model for rural America.

"We cherish our past and what family-scale agriculture has meant to our nation," says Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson. "But we are setting our sights on the future and a new and better role for family farms in the decades to come."

Frederickson cites the dwindling number of family farms in America – 6.5 million in 1932, today only 2 million remain, many of which are part-time hobby farms – as a call to action. But he said the organization also sees new opportunities opening up for family farmers and ranchers.

"The information revolution has created a market opportunity for smaller, faster moving, innovative businesses, including family farms. As a result, we have the opportunity to resurrect rural agriculture in America, to develop a new paradigm that will serve the family farm and the American people," Frederickson says.

The organization's campaign to keep family farmers and ranchers on the land, being run under auspices of the National Farmers Union Foundation, intends to raise $15 million in new capital. It is the largest fundraising campaign ever undertaken by the 102-year-old Farmer's Union.

A major portion of the funding will go to develop the new institute and also will pay to renovate the Union's existing education center buildings. Built in the 1950s and in need of major repairs, those buildings have hosted thousands of young people being trained as future leaders of rural America.

Campaign leaders also hope to establish an endowment to support programs and staffing of the new research institute.

The Farmers Union points to its grassroots structure as instrumental to its success and longevity. Not a top-down industry advocacy organization, the National Farmers Union is a federation made up of 24 state and regional Farmers Union organizations representing 26 states. These organizations help guide policies and direction since their presidents serve as the National Farmers Union's board of directors. Policies often originate with individual members – usually family farmers and ranchers themselves – who understand and appreciate the issues and challenges they face.

More information on the National Farmers Union and the campaign to keep family farmers and ranchers on the land can be obtained at the campaign's website, www.nfuf.org.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com