The American Farm Bureau Federation’s 101st Annual Convention and Trade Show got underway in Austin today. In keeping with the theme of this year’s convention, “Sustaining America’s Agriculture,” workshops focused on steps farmers and ranchers can take to enhance soil health and improve water quality. Many other workshops featured precision agriculture technology’s role in helping with labor shortages; increasing competition; mitigating risk and protecting food safety.
Here are the highlights from the first day of AFBF 2020:
Farm Bureau Family Raises More than $200,000 for Ronald McDonald House Charities
Sherry Saylor, chair of the AFB Women’s Leadership Committee, congratulated the Farm Bureau’s Women’s Leadership program for their efforts in raising more than $237,000 for Ronald McDonald House Charities and its network of local chapters over the past year. The donation drive was launched in January 2019 with a goal to raise $100,000 in honor of AFBF’s centennial. In addition to raising funds, grassroots farmer and rancher members from across the country donated food, supplies and cooked meals for RMHC chapters. Ronald McDonald House programs provide a home away from home for families with critically ill children.
How the Farm Economy Impacts Farmer Wellness
Participants in a workshop heard about the perfect storm of farm challenges over the past year and learned how to identify warning signs of unhealthy stress, depression and anxiety.
Krista Swanson, an Illinois family farmer and research specialist with the Gardner Agriculture Policy team at the University of Illinois, gave an overview of the many challenges farmers faced in 2019, from trade issues and tariffs to low commodity prices.
“When you’re farming it’s easy to think you’re alone or that all these stressful factors only affect you,” Swanson said. “But we need to realize that we are all in it together.”
Adrienne DeSutter, an Illinois family farmer and behavioral health consultant, spoke about how farmers have been affected by these and many other factors that cause stress.
“Farmers have so many unique stressors: long hours, isolation, uncontrollable stressful conditions,” DeSutter said. “We also have personality traits that make us good farmers, like self-reliance, perseverance and being risk-takers. But these traits can be a liability when we’re facing extreme stress.”
Agriculture Part of the Solution for Carbon Emissions
One of the biggest challenges for the future is feeding a growing world population while sustaining our land and water resources. With support from across the agricultural supply chain, farmers and ranchers can harness innovative tools and practices to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
Jean Lonie, director of farmer engagement for the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, said this ambitious goal is in reach.
“Our farmlands are a carbon sink,” Lonie said. “We can do amazing things in environmental stewardship. Agriculture is at the heart of sustainable food systems, and farmers and ranchers are the ones who can accomplish this.”
Climate Change: The Argument for Agriculture
Ryan Amberg from the New York Farm Bureau and Kalena Bruce from the Missouri Farm Bureau led a discussion on climate change and how to ensure agriculture leads the way on maintaining a clean environment for future generations. American agriculture represents 9% of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, remaining flat over the past 27 years despite a dramatic increase in production over the same time period. Farmers and ranchers in the audience added to the discussion on strategies for protecting the environment while remaining productive and profitable. Those strategies include waste management, adapting farming practices and diversifying crops and livestock.
Research Shows Farmer of the Future is Focused on Growth
The successful farmers and ranchers of the future have high business IQs and are very willing to adapt and collaborate, according to Aimpoint Research CEO Brett Sciotto.
Based on research that largely focused on farmers’ attitudes and business approaches, Aimpoint grouped farmers into various categories and determined which groups had the characteristics likely to point them toward success in light of the many challenges ahead in the next 20 years, including an ever-consolidating agriculture industry, growing labor shortages, the shrinking political influence of rural America and increased global competition.
Slightly more than 40% of farmers fall into two categories with the highest likelihood of success: Independent Elites, who are growth-oriented and early adopters of technology, and Enterprising Business Builders, who are highly collaborative and have the highest business IQ.
“There is plenty of opportunity for those willing to lead and to change,” Sciotto said.
Blockchain Breaking Through
As consumers want to know more about where their food comes from and companies want to mitigate risk, blockchain is emerging as a solution. This technology, which is moving out of testing and into the market, has the potential to track products back to the exact field it was grown in. In September of 2019, Wal-Mart started requiring all of its leafy green suppliers to upload data tracking produce back to the farm lot.
Zach Pinto of K-Coe Isom shared why those in the food supply chain should consider implementing blockchain. “We’re always going to have millennial consumers asking more and more about how things are made and where it comes from. And then we’re also always going to be dealing with an interest in mitigating risk on our operation and proving business efficiencies, and I think blockchain is going to be doing all of that,” he said.
Solving the Agricultural Labor Crisis
Leon Sequeira, an attorney representing agricultural clients across the country, and Dan Fazio, an attorney and the CEO of wafla, a non-profit association that aims to facilitate a legal and stable workforce for seasonal employers in the Pacific Northwest, examined efforts to solve the agricultural labor crisis. The panelists shared insights about the current farm labor situation and how it may play out for farmers and consumers if significant reforms are not implemented.
“Labor-intensive agriculture is in crisis due to runaway costs and misguided federal policy,” said Sequeira. “Without significant reforms to the H-2A program, American farmers will continue to lose market share to foreign-grown produce.”