fb - voice of agriculture
January 2002

Speak Up for Agriculture

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Agricultural advocacy is our most important chore. It is not a luxury. It is not something we do "if we have the time." We must make the time, as if we were changing oil or mucking out a calf stall. It may not be fun but the work has to be done. The forward to our AFBF policy book spells it out – individuals have a moral responsibility to help preserve freedom for future generations by participating in public affairs. People have the right and the responsibility to speak for themselves. As active, involved Farm Bureau volunteers, we recognize the necessity and accept the obligation to stand up and speak out for agriculture.

Over the years, we have seen many and heard even more who want to speak for farmers and ranchers. They come from diverse walks of life, far from the agricultural path, yet they profess to know our occupation better than we do and are eager to cram their pet philosophies on all who disagree. Farm Bureau was a driving force during the most recent farm program debate. America's agricultural system, renowned as the most productive and admired in the world, was under attack. Farm Bureau members did not hesitate to stand up to present and defend our member-written policies to address current concerns in ways that would offer long-term hope and recovery.

Apparently there are many who believe a farm program should not deal with strengthening agriculture, a major component of our national security and well-being. Some want a shift in emphasis from production to conservation. Others demand a shift from conservation to preservation. A few tried to monkey wrench the works to foster goals of eliminating meat from the diet, or earmarking funds and programs to help only the less efficient or the hobby producer. Others claim farm programs waste tax dollars.

Many Act to Hinder Farm Progress

Some go beyond talking and get to meddling, like the animal rights groups who wanted names and addresses of people who participate in animal damage control programs. The intent is to post the information on the Internet – a not-so-subtle call for attacks on people and property. Incredibly, the previous administration's USDA attorneys released the information. Your American and several state Farm Bureaus immediately went to court and obtained a temporary restraining order. We expect a permanent injunction at any time.

To prevent any more such sweetheart deals between extremists and their buddies in the bureaucracy, AFBF is working with USDA's National Agricultural Statistic Service to assure that privileged information remains confidential. We have a representative on the Agricultural Statistics Advisory Committee to help advise the USDA Secretary. Our presence there helped thicken the security firewalls when the Environmental Protection Agency sought USDA data as they were preparing water quality standards. We believe standards should be based on science, not on the location of the nearest chicken coop.

From the long-term overview of the nearly two years of preparation and discussion on this farm program, it is clear our elected and appointed leaders need to hear more from more of us. Farm and ranch families are suffering through some mighty tough times, with commodity prices at Depression-era levels at the lowest point. Some prices have climbed back – they could not have gone any lower – but so have the costs of things we pay for to keep our business going and growing – like labor, taxes, fuel and fertilizer.

Farm Families Must Speak Out

Arguments, opinions and misinformation injected into the farm bill discussion do not promote higher commodity prices, or reduce the costs of our inputs. Some would increase taxes to pay for more federal employees to administer or enforce their laws. Too many in Congress do not understand modern farming's needs and were tempted by schemes that would have reduced our efficiency, productivity and profitability, in the process weakening national well-being.

Farm Bureau represents our interests well in Congress, in the courts and with the administration and its regulatory agencies. But no one presents our interests better than you. Last August, AFBF had a special push for members to communicate with their members of Congress, to promote selected issues. As a result of your efforts, we secured farm-produced renewable fuels a place in the nation's energy security plans and we succeeded in obtaining Trade Promotion Authority for the president so U.S. negotiators can participate in trade discussions and open new markets for our exports.

Keep up the good work. Stay informed and involved, working through your county, state and American Farm Bureaus to speak up for agriculture. If you don't, others will.