> The Zipline

Looking to New Frontiers with Farm Bureau

Zippy Duvall


photo credit: AFBF Photo, Philip Gerlach

Do you know what I love about the direction U.S. agriculture is going? It’s that there is no single definition for the average American farm. The romanticized red barn is nice, but today’s agriculture is so much more. From mile-long greenhouses growing hydroponic lettuce to hemp fields to indoor aquaculture, it’s fun to see agriculture exploring new frontiers. I feel incredibly fortunate to have a front row seat to all of it as the president of the American Farm Bureau. Our Farm Bureau family—from the grassroots to leadership—is involved in every facet of agriculture and that’s part of the strength of our federation. That’s also the inspiration behind our 2024 convention theme: New Frontiers.

Agriculture has been evolving since time began, but today we are at a point in time when science and innovation are opening more doors than ever before. New technologies and methods are bringing new opportunities to enter agriculture, too. According to USDA nearly 30% of all farms have at least one beginning farmer. It has been fun to welcome many of them to Farm Bureau. Representing all of agriculture – large and small farms, conventional and organic crops, corn to cattle to cauliflower – is key to our mission as the national Voice of Agriculture®.

In fact, at our 2023 annual convention we surveyed the 330-plus delegates who establish our policy and learned that nearly two thirds of them operate small or mid-sized farms based on USDA’s definition. A small farm has Gross Cash Farm Income (GCFI) of less than $350,000. In a day and age when some combines cost a half million dollars, that threshold makes sense. We learned that 32% of our 2023 delegates operate small farms and 31% operate mid-sized farms. Another 32% operate large farms with only 5% operating very large farms.

Agriculture has been evolving since time began, but today we are at a point in time when science and innovation are opening more doors than ever before.

It's also worth noting that 99% of our delegates come from family-owned farms, again based on USDA’s definition. At a time of heightened concern about the consolidation within agriculture, this number might surprise some people. But it makes crystal clear that our policy is set by family farmers who run farms of all sizes. Farm Bureau is a big tent, as it should be.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to invite everyone under our big tent, and beyond, to join us in Salt Lake City next year for our convention January 19-24. It will be fascinating to explore some of agriculture’s new frontiers and hear from experts who are helping to blaze the trail. I hope you’ll mark it on your calendar and join us. We are in talks with some great potential speakers, and I look forward to sharing more information about who will take the spotlight once we lock in the details.

You can bet we’re committed to continuing the high energy environment we experienced this year in San Juan. The feedback was tremendous, and we intend to knock your socks off again in Salt Lake City. You can count on a good mix of leadership training, trends and policy insights. We’ll challenge young farmers to bring their best to the high-stakes discussion meet competition, and some well-deserving entrepreneur will walk away with $50,000 as winner of our Agriculture Innovation Challenge. That contest is open now so if you have a great new business or innovation or know someone who does, please learn more and submit an entry here.

Of course, we’ll also carry on the tradition of naming a Farm Dog of the Year, with support from Purina. It’s hard to believe this will be the sixth year of this competition, which has found its way into the hearts of tens of thousands of Americans. The contest celebrates farm dogs and the winner walks away with $5,000, a year’s supply of Purina dog food and a beautiful video about the bond between farmer and farm dog. Check out our 2023 winner and submit your dog for the contest here. Applications close July 14.

If you’ve never been to our convention, come check it out. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the year, and I am sure you’ll leave feeling energized and better informed. If you come every year, thank you, and I can’t wait to catch-up with you again in Salt Lake City.