When Farmers Meet
One of the first big agricultural events of the new year is the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting. It will be held Jan. 7-11, in Reno, Nevada. The first annual meeting was held in 1920 at Indianapolis. The national organization had been formed a year earlier in Chicago. At the organizing meeting, the president of the New York Farm Bureau, S. L. Strivings said, "Farmers must get past their own gateways and get out and see what is going on in the world. We must put agriculture into proper relationship with the rest of the world."
Now 76 years later, several thousand Farm Bureau leaders are again venturing beyond their farm gates to examine the course of agriculture. The American Farm Bureau annual meeting has always been held in December or January. There is no other time of the year when farm work slows enough to hold a meeting like this.
The most important business at the meeting is setting national policy for the year ahead. This is done by voting delegates, now numbering over 300, all of them farmers or ranchers. From the beginning, Farm Bureau has considered itself a grassroots organization. The policies that drive the organization are decided by its elected leadership, starting at the county Farm Bureau level.
In the early years, much of this policy making was focused on marketing problems and gaining economic equality for rural America. Farmers felt victimized by unscrupulous middlemen. They thought consumers were paying too much for food based on the prices farmers were receiving for the raw products.
Farm commodity prices are still an issue today, but not as much as in the past. Today, regulatory costs are choking agricultural producers and threatening to drive many of them out of business. The early Farm Bureau members would be aghast at how much authority the government exercises over productive uses of one's land. The heavy hand of merchants and speculators has been replaced by the regulator's foot.
Rural electrification was a big issue too at those early Farm Bureau meetings. Rural communities had to wait for electricity to be extended to them, but today Farm Bureau is already on the Internet. The gap between rural and urban America has closed.
What hasn't changed is the need for farmers and ranchers to go beyond their farm gates and see what is going on in the world. Even in those early years, farmers were developing a global outlook. Today, exports are running at a record pace and are the key to prosperity for agriculture.
In 1920, farmers thought government should take more of a role in improving agricultural production and maintaining price stability. Today, we see that role ending.
And while there was a time when farmers struggled for equality with their city cousins, now its city people who have embraced many of the values of country life.
Stewart Truelsen is director of broadcast services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.