Impact of COVID-19 on Agriculture

AFBF President Zippy Duvall’s Opening Speech for the 2021 Virtual Convention

Newsroom / January 10, 2021

Credit: AFBF 

The following are remarks made by AFBF President Zippy Duvall during the Opening General Session of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 102nd Annual Convention:

Well, thank you, Scott for that great introduction. And, I want to say thank you for being the vice president of American Farm Bureau, and what a great partner you’ve been for me for the five years that we’ve served together. Thank you so much.

Welcome, Farm Bureau members to the 102nd annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation. A year ago, we thought we’d be standing in San Diego today. But, because of the pandemic, we had to change our plans. So, today, I have the honor of speaking to you from my farm here in Greensboro, Georgia. So, you may hear a cow bellow, or you may even hear a goat yell out. But, don’t let that bother you. They’re just the sounds of life here on the farm.

I want to thank California Farm Bureau, because when we made up our mind to go to San Diego, it was because they invited us and offered to be our host.

2020 has been a difficult year, but there’s been silver linings within the challenges that we met. One of those silver linings is being able to do this convention virtually and being able to touch thousands of members that never had the opportunity to see our annual convention. We hope that you can collect the information that will inform you, and empower you, and inspire you to be a more active Farm Bureau member. If you’re not a member and you’re just checking us out, welcome, we’re glad to have you. American Farm Bureau is the largest general farm organization in the country. We have tremendous influence, but our influence comes from our leaders and our policies, and our policy comes straight from the farm. So, we hope over the next few days, you’ll enjoy our sessions and you’ll inform yourself to the point that you’ll want to be a member of our Farm Bureau family.

2020 has been a year of challenges and high expectations for our farmers - expectations that we will continue to grow the food, fiber and energy for our country and a lot of the rest of the world. We have risen to that challenge and those expectations, all along trying to protect our employees and families from this pandemic.

I am so proud of Farm Bureau as we have worked with our counties and states to help our farmers get through this difficult time. Back in February, we would just use Zoom or virtual meetings just as a sideline. Now, we do thousands of them a month; five or six of them a day, communicating back with our states and our counties. We even had one call where the president of the United States joined our state presidents and invited all our county presidents to join us. Fifteen hundred county presidents across the nation had the opportunity to listen to the president of the United States speak to them personally. And, then we had Secretary Perdue, and we had Administrator Wheeler at EPA, and a lot of people in between that could speak to the issues that you were facing.

But, at the end of those meetings was the most important part. That’s when we listened to your leadership to know what you were experiencing on the farm, because what we wanted to do at American Farm Bureau was to find solutions to your issues and to the food chain.

When the pandemic threatened the entry of farm workers, we made sure that those workers got to your farm so that you could grow and harvest the crops on your farm. When farmers and ranchers were trying to provide protection equipment for workers on the farm and their families, we went to Congress and made sure in the CARES Act that they helped you pay for that equipment and the extra housing that you were providing for people during the pandemic.

When our farmers had to dump their milk out and other farmers were plowing their vegetables under the ground because of plant closures, we worked with USDA and our state Farm Bureaus and other organizations across the country to find other ways for you to market your products. We even helped USDA to create a farm to family food box that was given out to millions of Americans across the country in a very difficult time in their lives.

I’m especially proud of our state Farm Bureaus for giving back to their community by connecting farmers to organizations that were helping people in need. In fact, our Farm Bureau family has donated nearly $5 million, a million pounds of food and thousands of volunteer hours to charities and food banks across the country.

So, now let’s take a look at the great generosity our Farm Bureau family has extended to people that need a helping hand.

[VIDEO PLAYS]

Isn’t that impressive? I hope it makes you Farm Bureau proud just like it does me. We have achieved these things by working together just as we always have at Farm Bureau. For 102 years, our organization has thrived on the idea of accomplishing more together than we could ever do alone.

#StillFarming is a great example of that. When Americans experienced empty shelves at the grocery store, some of that was for the first time in our lives. Panic set in along with a lot of questions about where their food was grown and where it was produced. We created #StillFarming as a simple effort to assure the public that we are committed to stocking American’s pantries and feeding their families. Little did we know, or ever expect, that our simple hashtag and message of commitment would reach nearly a hundred million people. That happened because Farm Bureaus in all 50 states and Puerto Rico embraced the hashtag and ran with it to ensure Americans that farmers and ranchers are working hard as they always have.

Farm Bureau created the hashtag, but its success is to the credit of our county and state Farm Bureaus, our GO Team members and the general member for spreading the message.

The hashtag has been so popular that today we are offering #StillFarming t-shirts for sale, with the profits going to Feeding America – the nation’s largest network of food banks – and the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, where we are committed to building ag awareness through education.

Here’s the bottom line; we reached nearly a hundred million people because it was the right message, ensuring the public that we have their back. And, we leveraged the mighty influence of the Farm Bureau family to deliver it; a perfect example of how we are stronger together.

When we started planning for this year’s convention in February, we chose that very theme: Stronger Together.

Little did we know how appropriate it would be. The past year has shown us just how true that theme is. No doubt, the past year has been challenging, but it has also given us the opportunity to spend more time with our families. And, I believe just like the Farm Bureau family is stronger together, our families are stronger together. I hope you have found some silver linings in your own household, where you’ve been closer to the people that you love and care for, and getting in touch with things that really matter in life.

This has been a difficult year for many of us, and me personally. As many of you know, I lost my wife Bonnie – the love of my life – one year ago during the 2020 annual convention. I want to send out my deepest heartfelt thank you to the Farm Bureau family for their support throughout Bonnie’s fight with cancer, and especially during those difficult days one year ago when Bonnie went to be with her heavenly father.

And, let me tell you, heaven has a new angel, and there’s no doubt about that. My family and I watched last year’s convention from afar and felt the warm embrace of this wonderful organization and its members.

Then, if that wasn’t enough, COVID hit in March, bringing disruptions to our economy and our lives. Then COVID hit my own family, and I was diagnosed with it in July. Again, I felt the outpouring of love and support from this amazing Farm Bureau family.

I share those personal experiences to illustrate that we truly are a Farm Bureau family. We’re more connected than ever and we’re getting great things done for American farmers and ranchers. We are stronger together.

Over the past four years, I’ve talked with groups of farmers all across America about this being our time to make a positive, lasting impact. Farm Bureau has the mission, the resources and talent, the grassroots engagement and relationships to achieve big wins for agriculture.

We have made the most out of our time. The relationships we have built with Congress and the administration helped deliver $38 billion to help our farmers survive and continue producing the nation’s food supply.

Perhaps the greatest win came in the regulatory arena. We succeeded in replacing the Waters of the U.S. Rule with a new Clean Water Rule that complies with the law. We’ve achieved new policy for our farmers to access crop protection tools that they needed. We’ve achieved updates in endangered species policy and management of our Western lands. Tax reform enacted in 2017 helped farmers keep more of what they worked hard for and earned so that they can reinvest it in our farms and ranches.

New trade agreements promise brighter days ahead for us in our exports. Of course, there’s been a lot of attention over the last couple of years about the trade war with China and the impact that it’s had on our farm exports. Rightfully so. But, the reality is, the past couple of years have been very productive in the area of new trade deals, with the U.S.-Japan agreement, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the China Phase 1 agreement that commits China to purchasing about $40 billion a year in U.S. commodities – almost twice the level of exports to China before the trade war started.

Now, we’ve had a presidential election and in a few days we’ll have a new president and a new Congress that will be sworn in. Folks, let me assure you, it’s still our time. Farm Bureau has built strong, productive relationships with every administration, every Congress. And, we’re already building those relationships again to continue to be the strong, national voice of agriculture.

But, regardless of who is in Washington, Farm Bureau’s impact comes down to our active, engaged grassroots members. We must work together because we still have much more to do for our American farmers. We must evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on our food system and recognize what worked and what needs to be changed.

We must address the mental stress that many of our agriculture and rural communities are coping with. Farm Bureau launched our Farm State of Mind campaign in 2020 to encourage farm families to talk about the issue and eliminate the unnecessary harmful stigma that’s attached to mental health. And, we must ensure that there are more mental health resources available to rural Americans.

We must make sure that we are at the table for the discussions around addressing climate change. Farmers already have a great story to tell. When it comes to protecting our environment, about 140 million acres of farmland are enrolled in conservation programs – that’s more than the land mass of California and New York combined. Renewable fuels are made from agricultural feedstocks and are helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 71 million metric tons per year – the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road.

Now, I’m not saying that we rest on those laurels, but I believe agriculture’s great track record shows just how much we can achieve when farmers and ranchers are at the table when we develop solutions.

We still have a lot of work to do on our taxes. The current agriculture exemption from the estate tax will expire in 2025. We need to make sure that exemption is permanent, and we must protect the tax cuts enacted in 2017.

We have to solve the problem of insufficient agricultural labor once and for all. We need to build more markets for our U.S. farm exports around the world. And, ag innovation will be more important than ever as we move into the future. Innovation has been our edge for the past 100 years. We must maintain investment in agriculture research and continue to develop and improve new plant breeding technologies in order to meet the food demands that lie before us.

And, to ensure that rural America participates in an innovative future, we must increase access to broadband.

These are the issues of our age. Our time. And, as we’ve always done at Farm Bureau, we will lead the way.

Has it been a tough year? You’re darn right it has. But, we’re going to persevere just like we always do. In Jeremiah, chapter 31, verse 25, God tells us that He will quench the weary soul. I think he was speaking to me, because I’m not only quenched, I am on fire! I can’t wait to get to a new normal so that we can charge forward and engage in person with Congress and the new administration.

But, in the meantime, we aren’t missing a beat. Farm Bureau is firing on all cylinders and I can honestly say that I’ve never been prouder to be part of this organization.

To every farmer and rancher who has persevered through difficulties and ensured the American people they can find food on the grocery store shelves, at the food banks and at our restaurants, thank you. We are proud to have America’s back and we don’t take for granted the trust that Americans put in us.

To all of our volunteer committee members who worked so hard this year to find ways to stay connected and keep advocating for America’s agriculture, thank you. Young Farmers and Ranchers, Women Leadership Committee and Promotion and Education Committee members—you have blazed a new trail for grassroots engagement.

To all Farm Bureau staff who have worked hard over the past year to help us implement the policies set by our grassroots leaders, thank you. We are stronger when we work together to preserve and promote the ability for our farmers and ranchers to be productive and profitable.

To Farm Bureau leaders and delegates who have worked over the last few months, and will continue work in the next few days, to set our policy agenda for the coming year, thank you. Your efforts will position Farm Bureau for more policy wins.

And to those who have been watching from a distance, wondering whether to get involved, I hope you will. If you want to make a difference for agriculture, join us. Making a difference is part of our mission and it has never been more important than it is now. My involvement in Farm Bureau has been one of the greatest honors of my life, as it is for many state and county leaders – and it can be the same for you.

It’s still our time. And we will make the most of it, by being a strong, united voice for all of agriculture. No other organization is as well-positioned to make a difference. We proved it repeatedly in 2020 and we are going to do it again in 2021.

God bless you all. God bless the American farmer, and God bless American agriculture.

Contact:
Mike Tomko
Director, Communications
(202) 406-3642
miket@fb.org
 
Bailey Corwine
Media Relations Specialist
(202) 406-3643
baileyc@fb.org
 

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