Farmers See the Need to Organize
Farm Bureau Grew Out of Extension Movement
The earliest organizations of farmers began to develop in the late 1800s. Those groups organized under a variety of names and philosophies, including The Grange, The Farmer's Alliance, The Agricultural Wheel, The Ancient Order of Gleaners and the Equity.
The origin of the Farm Bureau followed a different path and didn't occur until shortly after the turn of the century. Farm Bureau grew out of the Extension education movement occurring at land grant colleges across the nation.
The land grant colleges were established under the Morrill Act of 1862. The Hatch Act of 1887 established agricultural experiment stations. Each had provisions for "farmer's institutes” and other forms of off campus education for farmers.
The Extension concept, however, did not take root until the early 1900s, when the agricultural colleges developed Extension departments and staff. The devastating boll weevil gave an unexpected boost to the concept of traveling professors and field demonstration projects.
With a financial assist from the Agriculture Department, Dr. Seaman Knapp took to the road to "teach by doing rather than telling.” The field trials were developed to deal with the boll weevil. It had the effect for the first time of taking the classroom to the farm. Texas has the distinction of assigning the first "county agent.”
In 1911, John Barron, a farm boy who graduated from Cornell University, went to work in Broome County, New York. He was the first county agent to serve as a "farm bureau” representative. The Farm Bureau venture was financed jointly by USDA, the Binghamton Chamber of Commerce and the Lackawanna Railroad.
The new function operated as a "bureau” within the chamber of commerce, hence the name for the early organization. The Broome County Farm Bureau eventually separated from the chamber and began functioning as an independent entity in 1914.
Similar farm organized educational efforts quickly sprang up in Missouri, North Dakota, Vermont, Minnesota, Iowa, West Virginia and Illinois. The passage of the Smith Lever Act in 1914, providing added funds for education efforts, greatly boosted the effort.
The local Farm Bureaus served as the organizational network needed to further the Extension education efforts of the county agent. It was during a 1916 meeting of state county agent leaders that the designation "county farm bureau” was formally adopted.
The county Farm Bureau, or occasionally smaller units called parishes, initially served a social and educational function. But as the farmers met, they realized the broader potential of the new organization.
County Farm Bureaus throughout the nation started forming their own independent organizations similar to Broome County. The counties then quickly affiliated into statewide organizations. In March 1915, Missouri became the first to form a statewide organization.
AFBF Emerges on National Scene
The new organization lays out an ambitious legislative agenda
The newly formed American Farm Bureau Federation wasted little time once the organization was formally ratified in March 1920. The organization quickly laid out an ambitious legislative agenda.
AFBF offices were established in Chicago and Washington, D.C. "What's good for farmers is good for America,” proclaimed new AFBF President James Howard.
Howard outlined three remedies for the nation's farm problems: longer term credit to carry crops through orderly marketing, tariffs to protect against competing imported farm crops and the general cooperative marketing plan outlined by Farm Bureau.
Farm Bureau's strong emergence on the national scene combined with new found clout of the agricultural bloc to produce dramatic results.
Exploratory conferences at AFBF Washington headquarters led to the creation of "agricultural blocs” in Congress. The blocs survived, despite congressional leadership efforts to derail them.
Iowa Sen. Kenyon, the Senate farm bloc leader, and Gray Silver, head of AFBF's Washington office, drew up a list of sought after farm legislation. In less than six weeks, Congress approved several key measures, including a packers and stockyard control act, regulation of grain exchanges and grain futures trading, and extension of the War Finance Corporation's powers to help finance agricultural exports.
The legislative successes also included an increased supply of federal farm loan bonds, $25 million additional working capital for the federal farm loan system and a promise of $100 million for highway construction in rural areas.
The New York Times called it "the most forceful group of influence in national politics today.” Other early AFBF successes included passage of the Capper-Volstead Act in 1922, which allowed farmer cooperatives to work together without the constant threat of antitrust prosecution.
During those early years, Farm Bureau pushed hard for authorization of a Great Lakes St. Lawrence Waterway project to improve farm leverage in transportation costs. Another major objective was development of the Muscle Shoals project to develop cheaper domestic fertilizers and hydroelectric power on the Tennessee River. After years of legislative haggling, the Muscle Shoals project passed in 1931.
AFBF's legislative successes in its first three years were spectacular. The hectic pace, however, took a toll on James Howard's health. AFBF's first president stepped down in 1922, and Farm Bureau delegates chose Ohio farm leader Oscar Bradfute as their new president.
Oscar Bradfute quickly declared his main objective as the new president. "Service through cooperative marketing-that is the program of the Farm Bureau for the next year,” he said.
The early Farm Bureau leaders debated how involved the organization should become in organizing and managing cooperative marketing ventures. It soon became apparent that Farm Bureau saw its role as a service organization, encouraging the formation of marketing agencies, but not actively participating in management of the businesses.
AFBF supported an ambitious grain marketing cooperative, known as the U.S. Grain Growers. The new cooperative bought several private operations to gain entry in principal markets. Farmer members would pay for the facilities through modest deductions. But, after two difficult years, the venture failed.
The failure came to symbolize the longstanding frustration farm leaders would experience in organizing grain farmers or in gaining meaningful farm legislation to deal with crop surpluses and depressed prices.
Success came more easily in other areas. During the mid-1920s, under Bradfute's leadership, AFBF's cooperative marketing department helped to organize numerous regional and "minor crop” cooperatives including melons and sweet potatoes in the South, potatoes in Maine, dairy in the Midwest, eggs in Minnesota and tobacco in several areas.
Other efforts during Bradfute's presidency included improved farm to market roads, opposition to freight rate increases, exemption of cooperatives from taxation and federal seed purity measures.
By mid-1924, a marketing bill known as McNary Haugen took top Farm Bureau billing. The legislation sought an equalization fee principle so that farm surpluses, primarily grain, could be exported under a two-tier price system. Surpluses would be exported at lower prices with the support of processing fees collected on individual commodities. The measure had widespread farm support, but was strongly opposed by Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover and others in the Coolidge administration.
Conflicting views over the McNary Haugen bill influenced the 1925 Farm Bureau election. Bradfute wanted to pursue the legislation less vigorously, but the Midwest, led by Illinois Farm Bureau President Sam Thompson, wanted to be more aggressive. Thompson gained support from Alabama Farm Bureau President Ed O'Neal and the South, and won the election with O'Neal named vice president.
After several unsuccessful legislative attempts, the McNary Haugen bill eventually passed in 1927 only to face a veto from President Coolidge. Farm Bureau leaders quickly denounced the Coolidge action as the greatest blow ever dealt to American agriculture.
Coolidge eventually would lose most of the nation's farm support, leading to his decision not to seek re election.
Farm Bureau leaders were tugged heavily to support the Democratic presidential candidate, New York Gov. Al Smith, since their arch-rival, Herbert Hoover, received the Republican nomination, but AFBF remained non-partisan.
Though he had substantial help from the Farm Belt, Smith lost to Hoover in a landslide, and the McNary Haugen bill essentially died with Hoover's election.
Despite setbacks in marketing legislation, the term of President Sam Thompson was marked by several Farm Bureau victories. It helped to secure tax exempt status for cooperatives, forced rail rate reductions, obtained increased funds for Extension and more money for reforestation and research, established long sought wool standards, and continued highway building and inland waterway construction.
When the stock market crashed in October 1929, farmers were not particularly alarmed at first, since farm prices were holding steady. Wheat prices rose somewhat through the end of year and livestock prices remained fairly good, but the grain board was proving a failure. As the Depression's economic problems grew worse, farm complaints against the grain board grew louder.
Farmers Turn to Government for Solutions
The nation's crippled economy reduced consumer demand. Larger surpluses caused prices to fall even more. By 1932 gross farm income had fallen to $5.3 billion, a drop of nearly $12 billion since 1919. The capital value of the nation's farms dropped by more than $35 billion.
In an attempt to deal with the farm price and surplus problems, President Hoover created the Federal Farm Board. It was designed to allow cooperatives to hold crop surpluses and market them in an orderly fashion. One of the first important acts of the farm board was setting up a $20 million grain sales corporation, headquartered in Chicago.
Farm Bureau had misgivings about the effectiveness of the Farm Board, but President Thompson had reluctantly joined the board in an attempt to bolster its operation, turning the organization's reins over to AFBF Vice President O'Neal.
AFBF soon advanced its equalization fee principle with exportation of surpluses at lower prices. AFBF was never fully sold on the Hoover Federal Farm Board, so O'Neal urged Farm Bureau to look for other ways of controlling farm surpluses. He called a conference of leading farm cooperatives to unite them behind a program that would strengthen and extend the Agricultural Marketing Act.
O'Neal and others flayed Congress for failure to enact badly needed farm relief legislation. Farm Bureau hammered away at electing legislators responsive to the farm community. "Let us find out who our friends are and who are not,” said O'Neal.
By 1932, farm foreclosures had become rampant and farmers were organizing strikes and worked to prevent forced sales. O'Neal called on local Farm Bureau leaders to assert their leadership to put an end to hysteria. "Upsetting a few loads of milk and preventing farmers from hauling their produce into the markets cannot right the wrongs from which we are suffering. I am convinced that the real solution of the farm problem lies not in a temporary strike, but in securing the establishment of a sound national ag policy,” O'Neal said.
On the campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt met with O'Neal in Chicago. Farm Bureau would not endorse a candidate, but the animosity toward Hoover was evident in the farm community.
Within four days after his inauguration, Roosevelt had called a conference of farm leaders to work out a program. An agreement was reached that broad emergency powers should be conferred on the agriculture secretary to use any or all devices currently proposed to restore agriculture to a parity price basis - with the exception of direct government guarantees of cost of production prices.
Farm Bureau had the principal task of writing the new farm bill. Roosevelt submitted it as the Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1933. The bill also provided $2 billion worth of farm loan bonds to provide farm mortgage funds at lower interest rates and special funds to enable land banks to grant extensions and defer amortization payments and special funds to stop farm foreclosures.
The measure was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Roosevelt two months after taking office. It was declared a resounding Farm Bureau victory.
Farm prices and credit conditions improved slightly in the ensuing months, but conditions remained grim.
Starting in 1935, Farm Bureau began looking for refinements and improvement in the marketing program. Meanwhile, criticism of the program was growing among processors and other outside groups. Farm Bureau decided to launch a big campaign to defend the AAA, and organized a rally in Washington.
President Roosevelt opened the south lawn of the White House where he gave a stirring impromptu address to the 4,500 gathered farmers.
By June 1, 1935, a large number of packers, flour millers and cotton spinners had filed injunction suits to prevent the collection of processing taxes. In January 1936, the Supreme Court ruled the act unconstitutional.
As a remedy, Farm Bureau devised a soil conservation plan calling for the production of soil building green crops to be plowed under rather than harvested. Farm Bureau wanted to use principles of the soil conservation bill by instructing states to take over the main functions of the former AAA, financed still by grants from the federal government and distributed by the agriculture secretary.
Farm Bureau soon realized that the law was ineffective at controlling production. Emphasis was shifting to the idea of controlling marketing of crops after production. By 1938, a new Agricultural Adjustment Act passed containing the idea that prices should be maintained by Commodity Credit Corporation loans at specified percentages of parity prices. It became known as the "Farm Bureau Bill."
The 1938 act continued the SCS payments and principles, authorized acreage allotments by counties supervised by farmers, CCC loans up to 75 percent of parity prices on a sliding scale depending upon production, provisions for restrictions on marketing in years of serious overproduction and penalties for farmers not staying within their quotas.
The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 would provide the groundwork for all future farm legislation. The farm bills passed in recent years still have as their basis the 1938 enabling legislation.
In a June 1944 article, Fortune magazine described the political force of Farm Bureau with the Midwest/South coalition during the O'Neal years: "The Farm Bureau nearly always gets what it goes after.”
Farmers Prepare for the Challenges of War
The pre World War II years of 1939-41 were marked by attempts to change the Agricultural Adjustment Act. Farm Bureau complained that the AAA plan was not being properly carried out, because Congress failed to furnish enough funds to make full parity payments. The crop price situation and growing war problems received much attention at the Baltimore convention in 1940.
Farm Bureau told President Roosevelt that farmers were prepared to meet the challenge of the impending emergency: The problem was "the farmer has not been adequately paid ... his income for the past 10 years, being $2 billion a year short of parity.”
By 1940, there were 6.1 million farms in the U.S., down over 288,000 from 1930. The average farm size was 174 acres, compared to 157 acres 10 years earlier.
Agriculture Secretary Henry Wallace said farm production controls would be needed to meet the challenges of the war in Europe and at the same time to prepare for the changes that would come when peace returned.
AFBF's 1941 annual meeting in Chicago was punctuated on Dec. 7 by the announcement of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war. The meeting was thereafter referred to as the "war convention.”
The escalation of war brought on price controls. Farm Bureau fought to protect farm prices from ceiling levels being placed too low relative to parity.
With increasing prosperity, disputes arose between Congress and the Roosevelt administration over farm subsidies. The fight continued over price levels and subsidies, with AFBF President O'Neal objecting to attempts to turn the CCC into what he called "a giant Santa Claus to distribute rebates and bonuses to the public whether they need them or not.”
Farm Bureau favored parity of income between farm and non-farm sectors. It also advocated a sound, permanent and independent Farm Credit Administration, legislation against restraint of trade, satisfactory method of handling labor disputes affecting perishable and semi perishable agricultural commodities, and protection of agriculture's interest in all trade agreements.
During the war years, Farm Bureau worked successfully for extension of the 3.5 percent interest rate on farm loans through the Farm Credit Administration. Efforts to amend the Wage Hour Act to remove agricultural exemptions were successfully defeated. As scarcity of machinery and equipment developed, farm purchases fell and authorities began to warn against a backlog of unused purchasing power in country banks.
As the United States emerged from World War II, attention centered on planning for conversion to peacetime and how to maintain high productivity at fair prices in an economy that had been completely absorbed by wartime productivity.
O'Neal gaveled to order the first peacetime annual AFBF convention in five years on Dec. 18, 1945, in Chicago. The organization had pushed hard to reach the 1 million member mark, but it did not happen until the following year.
O'Neal warned that the United States must prepare for the role of world leader. "It may not come in the near future,” he said, "but it is on its way and we must prepare to meet it.”
Unemployment was a major post war issue, and Farm Bureau announced support for government programs to combat it. It insisted, however, that these programs be confined to stimulation of private enterprise to create jobs, rather than government job programs. Labor organizations became restless and strikes broke out frequently.
A key issue facing agriculture was whether consumers would be willing to pay for food at prices that would provide a fair profit to farmers.
A Farm Bureau study in 1947 concluded that reciprocal trade agreements boosted U.S. relations with other countries, and resulted in increased exports and more stable imports.
Congress, in addition to tackling labor legislation, reviewed war emergency laws. The war had damaged farm production in many major countries, leading to widespread hunger in the world and farmers thus free of worry about surplus production. Farm Bureau pushed to open export opportunities overseas, so U.S. food production could take advantage of ready markets around the world.
Congress in 1947 also began dealing with management of government grazing land and attempting to establish that a certain percentage of the revenue from grazing fees be used for rangeland improvement in the national forests.
Farm price legislation discussions turned to stabilization of farm prices without stimulating overproduction of commodities. O'Neal testified in support of continuation of the CCC for two more years, calling it a "useful vehicle by which greater stability had been brought to agriculture.”
O'Neal retired at the end of 1947, and Iowa farmer Allan B. Kline was elected as head of AFBF. Kline had served as vice president for several years. Romeo Short of Little Rock, Ark., became vice president.
Kline assumed the presidency while the organization was still fighting against rationing and price controls. The new leader spoke out in favor of more positive programs to combat inflation.
Farm Bureau also maintained its positions favoring increased soil fertility and conservation, and a leading role in ag research for the land grant colleges.
Parity based agricultural loans on basic farm commodities, still a part of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, as amended in 1938, were due to expire at the end of 1948.
These and other laws designed to protect farm income were soon to come in for a long period of controversial post war adjustments.
A controversy was brewing over raising the 40 cents per hour minimum wage to 60 or 75 cents and extending it to include agricultural employers of more than eight workers.
Another battle began not long after President Harry Truman named Charles F. Brannan as agriculture secretary. Brannan wasted no time in recommending a program to allow the department to exercise control over agricultural production as part of the farm program. The resulting fight continued over the next several years.
Farm Bureau won a major victory when Congress passed a permanent, long-range price support program for basic agricultural commodities, with parity based price supports to be adjusted according to a 10 year moving average.
As a growing organization, Farm Bureau expanded its program of member involvement and leadership training.
Voting delegates approved an increase in state Farm Bureau dues to the AFBF from 50 cents per member per year to 75 cents.
Farm Bureau Pushes Toward Market-Based Agricultural Policies
As the 1950s approached, a growing division in agriculture became apparent. It was between those who favored high, rigid price supports for farm commodities versus a more moderate approach of flexible price supports.
Farm Bureau was in the latter group, reasoning that rigid supports would result in surplus production-leading to production controls and price fixing.
The debate over supply management and the government's role in agriculture would, of course, continue to simmer for many years. "Nothing could be more harmful to the long time welfare of agriculture than to make the farmer depend on government as the major arbiter of farm prices,” said AFBF President Allan Kline.
Farm exports were growing and totaled about 27 percent of total U.S. exports. Wheat, tobacco and cotton were the leading commodities sold abroad.
By 1950, the battle between Agriculture Secretary Brannan and Farm Bureau had intensified. AFBF assailed the so-called Brannan Plan of price supports and production controls, saying they were not in the best interest of agriculture or the U.S. economy.
Kline continued to stress that price support levels were forcing a glut of production. He warned that Congress would never provide enough funds to support farm income at levels promised. He said the Brannan plan would standardize farm production at a relatively low level of efficiency and discourage individual farmer initiative.
Obtaining adequate supplies of machinery, parts, farm chemicals and fertilizers was among problems facing farmers at the time. The relationship of farm prices compared to the cost of farm inputs was a growing problem.
Issues of vital interest to farmers in 1951 included price controls on livestock and meat, legislation to allow employment of Mexican nationals for temporary farm work in the United States, strengthening of the U.S. foreign aid program and tariff concessions negotiated under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
Negotiations for tariff concessions were based on U.S. sales abroad in 1949 of $3.6 billion. The nation's trade policy was dominated by protective rules to prevent imports of any commodity from harming domestic producers.
Instead of controls on prices, Farm Bureau favored monetary and fiscal restraint, elimination of both non-essential government spending and pay as you go taxation.
President Truman chose in 1952 to forsake the Agricultural Act of 1949, which had been supported by Farm Bureau, and instead to favor the Brannan Plan advocating more rigid government control of agriculture.
Kline replied that a long-range farm plan, supported by Farm Bureau and adopted by Congress, should not be junked by political opportunists.
During the 1950s, Farm Bureau intensified its citizenship programs and mounted a campaign to arouse members to exercise their right to vote. Youth movements were beginning in some state Farm Bureaus and women's programs were also emphasized as Farm Bureau stressed its family membership orientation.
Maine became the 47th state Farm Bureau to join the American Farm Bureau Federation, leaving Rhode Island the only state without a state affiliate. With Puerto Rico, there were 48 state and territorial Farm Bureau organizations. Farm Bureau was the largest farm organization in the nation with around 1.5 million member families.
The nation got a new president in 1952. Farm Bureau praised President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower's appointment of Ezra Taft Benson of Salt Lake City, Utah, as agriculture secretary.
Kline retired as AFBF president at the organization's 36th annual meeting in 1954 and Charles B. Shuman of Illinois was elected to replace him. More than 8,000 were on hand for the annual meeting in New York.
President Eisenhower started 1955 with a hopeful message for farmers, saying that because of the flexibility in the Agricultural Act of 1954 and legislation providing for trade development, "farm production is gradually adjusting to markets, markets are being expanded and stocks are being moved into use.”
In 1956, USDA reported that 93.4 percent of America's 4.8 million farms had electricity, compared to a little over 77 percent at the time of the 1950 census.
Farm Bureau favored a program to reduce surplus production through increased soil conservation, a measure that came to be known as the Soil Bank Bill. The bill eventually passed Congress and included some, but not all, of Farm Bureau's recommendations.
The Conservation Reserve of the Soil Bank Program was later expanded to encourage that more farmland be retired to conservation uses and even to allow for whole farm participation.
Some groups urged government price supports to deal with low prices for livestock, but Farm Bureau opposed such supports, claiming they would "wreck, not save,” meat producers.
Eisenhower signed Farm Bureau supported legislation allowing farmers to file for refunds of federal tax on gasoline used on farms, adding more funding for school milk and brucellosis eradication programs.
When Eisenhower suggested he may invoke price and wage controls if inflation became worse, Farm Bureau argued against such measures saying they attacked the symptoms of inflation, not the cause.
Farm Bureau also recommended a new farm price support system based on a percentage of the weighted average market price as opposed to the out dated concept of relationship to parity.
In 1959, the number of hired workers on U.S. farms dropped below 900,000 for the first time since 1925. The 30 percent decline in the farm work force over 10 years was a reflection of the growing efficiency of U.S. agriculture.
An improvement in livestock prices, which were not supported by government in any way, illustrated Farm Bureau's position that pricing of farm products should be elated to market forces of supply and demand, not arbitrarily set by government.
Overproduction Leads to Farm Income Problems
As the 1960s got under way, many farm problems were obvious. Inflation was driving up farm operating costs, while prices headed in the other direction. A continued increase in all farm production created heavy carryover stocks of wheat and feed grains and threatened profitable farm production.
Farm Bureau called for continuation of the existing farm policy (the 1958 act) until changes became necessary-such as cutting incentives to overproduction and keeping production adjustments to one crop from interfering with production and markets for other crops. The market price system was viewed as the only route to better farm income.
Sen. John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960. He appointed Orville Freeman, a former governor of Minnesota with little experience in agriculture, to head the USDA.
The Kennedy farm program proposal of rigid crop production controls was criticized as a warmed over version of the Brannan plan, long since rejected by farmers and defeated during the Truman administration.
Rising inflation, high production costs and deflated farm prices remained the major obstacles to improved farm income. Farm Bureau argued against a commodity by commodity approach to farm programs. The Farm Bureau president said the government's dumping of surplus crops on the market at inopportune times cost farmers billions of dollars in lost market revenue.
Farm Bureau took a stand against legislation to create federal health insurance, saying "it transfers to an already overburdened central government responsibilities better handled in other and better ways.”
As 1962 began, farmers were struggling under record operating costs and a 22-year low in farm purchasing power. The Cold War, spiraling inflation and the threat of crippling strikes by organized labor were threats to the budding recovery.
The Interior Department said grazing fees would not be raised on 170 million acres of federal rangelands. The department had proposed tying grazing fees to the market price of beef or lamb.
The 88th Congress convened in 1963 with budget and taxes foremost on its agenda. Earlier that year President John F. Kennedy called for voluntary production controls on agriculture, but Shuman criticized the plan as "the same old supply management schemes with stricter controls and larger subsidies.”
In May 1963, the wheat certificate supply management program promoted by the Kennedy administration and strongly opposed by Farm Bureau and other agricultural interests was defeated by farmers in a referendum. The plan failed to receive a majority of "yes” votes in a single wheat producing state.
Farm Bureau supported a realistic wheat feed grain program and opposed an administration proposal for a tax cut it said had not been earned by effective control of federal expenditures.
Farmers shared the country's grief over the November 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
President Lyndon Johnson sent greetings to the 45th annual AFBF meeting in Chicago.
The government, under Johnson, seemed determined to go the supply management route in direct disregard of the wishes of farmers. Commodity programs to improve farm income and consumer subsidies to improve their standard of living were political promises used by Johnson in his run for the office he inherited from Kennedy.
Farm Bureau initiated a new campaign, "food for freedom,” it said would change the direction of government farm programs from price and supply management to more emphasis on expanded world markets.
Farm Bureau supported reintroduction of the Agricultural Producers Marketing Act at the beginning of 1967. The measure was designed to control unfair practices and strengthen farm marketing and bargaining power.
New York Rep. Joe Resnick mounted a strong personal attack against Farm Bureau, calling it a large combination of insurance companies that had no interest in the welfare of agriculture. The charges were rebuffed by the other members of Resnick's rural development subcommittee and by the entire House Agriculture Committee in what amounted to a rebuke of the New York legislator.
The number of farmers remained in steady decline with the number of operating farms dropping to about 3 million in 1968. The number of farms dropped 25 percent from 1959 to 1968, and the average size of farm rose from 288 acres to 369 acres in the same period.
There was growing concern that tax treatment of farm losses was attracting a lot of outside investors in agriculture. Another major concern was that government payments accounted for over 20 percent of net farm income.
Rapid changes in farmland values made estate tax laws out of date. Farm Bureau urged that the value of farmland for estate tax purposes should be based on its current use.
A secondary boycott against California grown grapes was in progress by the United Farm Workers' Organizing Committee. It was opposed by Farm Bureau as a blatant attempt to force compulsory unionism on agriculture.
California Farm Bureau President Allan Grant traveled to major Eastern cities to explain the unfairness of the boycott.
Farm Bureau recognized the seriousness of the secondary boycott on grapes and began to confront the challenge. The farm group initiated a Freedom to Market campaign to counter union efforts to organize farm workers through illegal intervention in marketing activities.
Lyndon Johnson chose not to seek re-election and Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey in the presidential race. Analysts said Nixon received an average of 60 percent of the farm vote. The new president named Clifford M. Hardin as his agriculture secretary.
Introduction of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1969 was in line with Farm Bureau recommendations for phase out of existing supply management programs, and efforts to initiate market based support levels. That measure, along with marketing rights legislation, was among Farm Bureau's policy goals for 1969.
The annual meeting was held in Washington, D.C., and both President Nixon and Vice President Agnew appeared on the program. Walter Randolph retired as vice president of AFBF and David H. Sloan, president of South Carolina Farm Bureau, succeeded him.
Environment Becomes a New Player in Agricultural Policy
The 1970s was an era of rapid change for the nation and American farmers. American vocabulary changed with the new advances. From the great cities to rural areas, people began speaking of the latest "moonshot” by U.S. astronauts.
References to "global trading partners” and their implications on "agribusiness” were tossed around when speaking of imports and exports and their ramifications on farmers and farm related commerce.
Several issues confronting farmers and Farm Bureau in the 70s remain the same today: international trade, farm labor, transportation, property rights, ag chemical availability and use, commodity price support programs, taxes, water rights and resources, conservation programs and land use questions.
Government farm policies, commodity programs and ag finances were still major problems. Social protests remained commonplace throughout the country and leaders of protest organizations became household names.
Farm Bureau saw the end of an era with the retirement of AFBF President Shuman in late 1970. Shuman held AFBF's top post for 16 years before he announced his retirement to a stunned crowd at the annual meeting.
The Illinois farmer turned over the reins of the nation's largest farm and ranch organization to a fellow Illinoisan, William Kuhfuss. Kuhfuss had previously served as president of the Illinois Farm Bureau for 12 years and sat on the AFBF board of directors.
Almost immediately, Kuhfuss faced confrontations over agriculture chemical use, land use questions, trade and farm labor. Kuhfuss would deal with the agriculture policies of the Nixon administration throughout his term.
The Nixon presidency marked a period of intense concern over inflation. Nixon initially proposed a 90-day freeze on wages and prices as a temporary measure. AFBF President Bill Kuhfuss warned of the dangers, stating, "Although a wage price freeze may have helpful short-term psychological effects, past experience proves conclusively that such controls treat the result of the inflation rather than its basic cause.” Farm Bureau expressed its joint concerns with artificial price controls and uncontrolled government spending as the cause of inflation.
Those inflationary concerns carried over into agricultural trade policies. Shortcomings in the Soviet Union's farm sector and slowly improving U.S.-Soviet relations led to major new U.S. grain exports. The sales caused a sharp short-term rise in grain prices and a consumer/industry backlash in the United States. Processors and day to dayhigher food prices, which shaped future policy debates.
The era marked the beginning of the consumer movement's involvement in agricultural policy matters, including organized opposition to higher meat prices. Similar food price concerns led to President Ford's embargo of soybean sales to Japan. After finally realizing long sought export markets, AFBF recognized the danger such embargoes would have on future trade policies. Farm Bureau sharply criticized the embargo in adopting policy positions. AFBF repeatedly warned that the U.S. would be viewed as an unreliable supplier.
Throughout the 70s, Farm Bureau worked vigorously for improved legislation to bolster farmers' bargaining position with handlers and processors. The added marketing strength was of special concern to dairy, fruit and vegetable producers.
The Nixon presidency also marked the start of stronger environmental occupational safety legislation. Beginning in 1976, Farm Bureau started a strong push for increases in the estate tax and gift tax exemptions arguing that inflation had rendered the previous limits obsolete.
The late Cesar Chavez and his United Farm Workers Organizing Committee continued to pose a challenge to California grape producers with their table grape boycott.
Chavez and affiliated groups proposed radical solutions to their concerns over perceived farm labor problems. UFWOC volunteers and activists chose Farm Bureau as a direct target of their boycotts and picketing. AFBF headquarters in Park Ridge, Ill., the Washington office and many state Farm Bureau offices were sites of picket lines and protests.
Much like today, Kuhfuss and AFBF took on the task of lobbying members of Congress and federal bureaucrats to keep down the costs of grazing cattle, sheep and horses on federal land.
The American Farm Bureau Research Foundation partially financed a study dedicated to examining federal range land use. The study was performed in cooperation with Western land grant colleges and ranchers.
Harry Bell, president of the South Carolina Farm Bureau and current AFBF vice president, was elected to the state presidency in 1971.
Leadership of the American Farm Bureau changed hands three times in the 1970s. Following Shuman and the six year term of William Kuhfuss, California farmer Allan Grant assumed the AFBF presidency in 1976. Grant, the former president of the California Farm Bureau, held the top AFBF position through 1980.
As the decade of the 1970s came to a close, trade relations with the former Soviet Union and Iran eroded, as both nations showed strong signs of aggression to other nations and the United States.
A complete embargo of Iran was implemented by President Jimmy Carter in response to the hostage situation at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Although the embargo was somewhat damaging to American farm exports, it was supported by Farm Bureau and most Americans.
The decade would end with President Carter announcing a grain embargo against the Soviet Union in response to its military incursion into Afghanistan. It would later criticize this move as an unfair burden borne primarily by U.S. farmers. Many other grain producing countries quickly captured U.S. sales.
Farm Crisis, Global Trade
The 1980s represented a decade of bitter-sweet growth for the nation. While many economic sectors of the United States profited and grew, others, including some family farmers, suffered. Farm Bureau was a constant force throughout the decade with its representation of farmers and response to issues.
The combined effects of the embargoes, high loan rates and large government stocks of grain hog tied farm export markets in the early 1980s. The European Community, Australia, Argentina and Brazil took over increasing shares of U.S. grain export markets. The high loan rates and minimum price levels at which grain could leave the reserve allowed foreign governments to price their products below U.S. levels.
Interest rates skyrocketed during the late '70s. Farmers and ranchers who responded to good export markets in the early '70s by expanding their land holdings and other debts were among the hardest hit. Outstanding farm debt approached the $200 billion mark in the early 1980s, the highest figure ever. The high cost of borrowing pushed many expansion minded farmers to the limit. Although not across the board, pressures from economic hardship and credit problems forced many farmers to abandon their family held businesses. Visions of day-long foreclosure sales have taught farmers valuable lessons and will haunt the agriculture community for future generations.
As foreclosures increased, land values dropped dramatically, causing many farms to have higher debts than asset values.
The plight of farmers became front page news and, more significantly, was extensively covered by television news and talk shows. Hollywood stars testified before Congress on the problem; their expertise about farming came from roles they played in movies about farmers.
The 1980s brought a changing political climate. A former California governor and Hollywood movie star arrived on the scene to lead the nation while a Virginia farmer stepped in to lead the Farm Bureau. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Robert Delano would leave their marks on the nation and the American Farm Bureau.
Reagan guided the United States through one of its largest economic growth periods since World War II, while Delano directed the AFBF through transformations in U.S. agriculture policy. Delano held the office of AFBF president from 1980 to 1986.
Both presidents had common goals and ideas. Delano pledged to work for Farm Bureau families, to maximize farmers' profits and strengthen agriculture's position in U.S. and world markets. Reagan also vowed to have a positive working relationship with Farm Bureau in obtaining Delano's goals.
"As we form a new administration in Washington, I look forward with enthusiasm to working with the American Farm Bureau Federation and each of the individual state Farm Bureaus,” Reagan said. "As we move ahead, I am counting on you to help us expand and strengthen our agricultural economy. We must do this in the interest of farm families, rural communities and also for the benefit of all Americans.”
The need for changes in the farm program was soon apparent. A major agriculture policy push in the 1980s was a move away from government supported price programs to market-oriented farm commodities programs-a move supported by Farm Bureau. Delegates to the 1981 annual meeting outlined AFBF policy supporting the shift.
"The delegate body was optimistic that Farm Bureau has the best opportunity in many a year to achieve its objective of a market-oriented farm program,” Farm Bureau News reported. "The delegates also felt the time is right to reduce the role of the federal government in citizens' lives.”
But the shift to market-oriented policies wasn't easy or smooth. The farm recession intervened, and, ironically, policies became even less market-oriented in the first Reagan term.
By the time the 1985 farm bill deliberations started, it was widely held that farm policy needed a new direction. The answer, according to many, including AFBF, was a market-oriented farm policy that would enable U.S. farmers to compete in world markets. Cutting back production to boost prices wasn't really an option. The European Community and South American nations had become strong competitors.
But pulling the plug on farm supports during the worst crisis since the Depression wasn't a choice, either. A middle course, which Farm Bureau advocated, was adopted. The bill would provide large initial payments to farmers and gradually phase them down.
Farm spending rose to a record $26 billion in 1986 but fell to about $10 billion when the 1985 law expired. Exports rebounded to near record levels.
Not withstanding economic advances and pitfalls, the 1980s were characterized as the decade of high technology and electronic miniaturization. From personal stereos to compact disc players and personal computers, electronics took on a more prominent role in the lives of all Americans.
Computers represented one of the most significant advances available for farmers and ranchers. Although they weren't exactly welcomed with open arms at first, personal computers would eventually have an incredible impact on agriculture producers and their day-to-day business decisions.
Entertainment reached new heights with advancements in home electronics. Satellite dishes became commonplace in rural settings where standard UHF and VHF signals were out of reach. The satellite dish not only enabled rural residents to receive a wide variety of entertainment programming, it opened new doors for education and agriculture businesses and organizations.
Farm Bureau kept pace with the new technological breakthroughs by creating the AFBF television department. With the advent of electronic news gathering equipment and satellite capability, Farm Bureau realized the potential of its television department.
It was useful in up linking video programming to state Farm Bureaus from its Park Ridge headquarters. These capabilities enabled the department to produce television news segments, live broadcasts dedicated to agriculture issues and updates and provide other valuable public relations and educational programming.
In December 1985, President Delano announced he would not seek reelection to Farm Bureau's top post. Instead, he would return to his farm in Virginia.
Delano's announcement left the door open for Iowa Farm Bureau President and AFBF board member Dean Kleckner to run for and win the AFBF presidency at the 1986 annual meeting in Atlanta.
From the beginning Kleckner was a champion of farmers and their goal of increasing net farm income. He advocated increased agricultural trade and the acquisition of new world markets.
"Everything we are going to do is going to be slanted toward improving net farm income,” Kleckner said in his first speech as AFBF president. "We have simply got to do a better job in the export market.”
The Era of Trade
During the term of AFBF President Dean Kleckner, the 1990s saw the end of a political era. For the first time in 12 years, a Democrat was elected to the White House in the 1992 election. President Bill Clinton took office in January.
Former Mississippi congressman Mike Espy was Clinton's choice to head the USDA, a move that was applauded by Farm Bureau. Espy vowed to work in harmony with farmers and Farm Bureau to achieve positive goals for American agriculture.
As American agriculture entered the 1990s, it became clear that one key path to continued growth and economic success was international trade. During President Kleckner’s term, efforts to increase net farm income and decrease barriers to trade through bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations became a priority for the American Farm Bureau.
On Jan. 13, 1992, President George H. W. Bush stepped to the podium at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Kansas City, Missouri. The president had just returned from a 12-day trip across Asia, and he used his Farm Bureau speech to discuss what the future of trade might look like in a post-Soviet world.
Like President Bush, AFBF’s Kleckner was a visible and tireless supporter of efforts to increase international markets for U.S. farm goods. On the regional front, the focus was on the North American Free Trade Agreement, more commonly referred to as NAFTA. While it was not ratified until 1993, NAFTA’s roots began in the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan called for a common market among North American nations.
Formal NAFTA talks began in the early 1990s under the administration of President George H.W. Bush. The talks included the United States, Canada and Mexico, with a goal of a liberalized trading system among those three nations.
NAFTA was signed in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Both houses of Congress ratified the treaty in November 1993. President Clinton signed the treaty into law on Dec. 8, 1993.
On the international stage, efforts to liberalize global trade came through the World Trade Organization (WTO), which was established on Jan. 1, 1995. Members included more than 150 nations. The WTO was set up to be governed by its Ministerial Conference, members of which met every two years. Under the WTO trade disputes are settled by a dispute settlement body, which has the power to impose sanctions on member countries found at odds with WTO rules.
While the WTO was viewed by the American Farm Bureau and nearly all of American agriculture as a successful effort to increase the flow of trade by decreasing protectionist trade barriers, not all aspects of society agreed.
In 1999, a meeting of the WTO Ministerial Conference held in Seattle was envisioned to set the tone for a new millennial round of trade negotiations. The meetings, which were supported by Farm Bureau and a coalition of American agricultural groups, were greeted by organized protests by a loosely knit group of violent protestors who demonized what they saw as the ills of globalization. While the so-called Battle of Seattle overshadowed the substance of the talks, the WTO continues to set rules for international trade and continued to add member countries. In 2001, this included WTO membership for China.
Following the term of President Bill Clinton, who tapped Kansan Dan Glickman to serve as his second Agriculture Secretary, Americans elected Republican President George W. Bush in 2000. Among Bush’s Agriculture Secretaries were Californian Ann Veneman, Nebraskan Mike Johanns and North Dakotan Ed Schafer.
Technology, Consolidation and Engagement
Since the beginning of the 21st century, agriculture has continued to go through rapid change. There has been a marked increase in the consolidation of U.S. agribusiness on the supplier, processor and marketing sides. Net farm income has gone through ups and downs as the global marketplace for agriculture goods has continued to develop.
We have seen rapid advances in technology and the use of new farming practices. Farmers began to implement the widespread use of conservation tillage, a practice that leaves crop residues such as stalks, stems and leaves in the field to decrease erosion.
The use of biotech farm crops, now commonly referred to as genetically modified crops, also began a revolution across the landscape. Genetically modified crops offered farmers the ability to use fewer pesticides to combat weeds and insects due to their engineered ability to protect themselves in ways that were safe for humans, animals and the environment.
During this time, we also witnessed the early applications and continued growth of global positioning technology, which allows farmers to harness satellite technology to better understand what is taking place in their fields and adjust their farming practices accordingly, from seeding rates to fertilizer applications. This technology not only allows farmers to farm more efficiently, but also provides them the ability to dramatically decrease agriculture’s effects on the environment.
In recent decades, American consumers, due to advances in communications technology and a widespread development commonly known as the Foodie Movement, began to ask questions about how food was produced in the United States. Americans no longer had a close connection to the farm and ranch like their ancestors and many expressed concerns about the growing trend of consolidation and farmers use of technology to produce food.
On January 13, 2000, AFBF delegates elected a young cattle and rice farmer from Texas, Bob Stallman to serve as their president. While continuing a firm level of support for global issues such as trade, Stallman refocused the organization on domestic issues, such as regulations, farm policy, agricultural labor, transportation and taxes.
Americans elected Democratic President Barak Obama in 2008 and Iowan Tom Vilsack served as Agriculture Secretary throughout his two terms in office. AFBF President Stallman enjoyed an open and constructive working relationship with Secretary Vilsack.
During Stallman’s term and continuing through today, farmers and ranchers found it essential to engage with consumers in our nation’s ongoing discussions about food production. From face-to-face events, to using modern communications technology and social media, farmers and ranchers stepped up.
During this time, the American Farm Bureau Federation was instrumental in the formation of the AgChat Foundation, a group formed to help farmers use social media platforms to engage with consumers. AFBF also lent support to the creation of several other engagement efforts, such as the Center for Food Integrity and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. Stallman served as the first chairman of USFRA in 2011. Today, farmers are using multiple platforms and events to not only listen to consumers’ concerns, but also to share information and build on shared values with their customers.
Today, the Centennial and the Future
After Bob Stallman announced his retirement as AFBF President, delegates in 2016 elected the organization’s current president, Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, to lead the organization. Duvall is a third-generation farmer from Georgia. In addition to a 400-head beef cow herd for which he grows his own hay, Duvall and his wife, Bonnie, also grow more than 750,000 broilers per year. Prior to being elected AFBF president, Duvall served for nine years as president of the Georgia Farm Bureau.
AFBF President Duvall is a steadfast believer in the importance of farmers “getting beyond their fencerows” in efforts to engage with American consumers and advocate for agriculture with policy makers. He also pursues a platform of uniting the many voices of American agriculture for the betterment of the profession of farming and ranching and the rural communities on which they depend.
Later in 2016, following AFBF electing Duvall as its president, Americans went to the polls in November and elected Republican President Donald J. Trump. For Agriculture Secretary, President Trump selected another farmer from Duvall’s home state of Georgia, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue.
For the last several years, among AFBF’s priority issues have been agricultural labor, regulatory and tax reform, trade policy, farm policy and technology issues.
On January 8, 2018, President Trump traveled to Nashville, Tenn., and delivered a major speech at the 99th Annual Convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation. In addition to the many issues he addressed, including trade, taxes and the economy, President Trump signed two Executive Orders on the convention stage to help increase prosperity in rural America. Among the messages President Trump delivered: Farm country is God’s country.
As AFBF heads toward its 100th Annual Convention, set for New Orleans in 2019, the organization continues to hold true to the vision of the farmers from 30 states who founded the organization in Chicago in 1919, and to the original purpose of the organization approved by delegates in 1920 – “…To make the business of farming more profitable, and the community a better place to live. Farm Bureau should provide an organization in which members may secure the benefits of unified efforts in a way which could never be accomplished through individual effort.”
Today’s mission statement continues to ring true to those original sentiments, as AFBF remains “committed to working through our grassroots organizations to enhance and strengthen the lives of rural Americans and to build strong, prosperous agricultural communities.”
As the American Farm Bureau Federation looks toward its 100th anniversary, Farm Bureau members, leaders and staff reflect on the past and look forward to a bright future. Farm Bureau continues to represent the interests of America's farmers and ranchers as the organization advocates for policies and programs to support America’s farm and ranch families, the rural communities on which they depend, the citizens of the nation for whom they produce and the world they help feed.