Last week, I had the privilege of spending a day at the FFA National Convention in Indianapolis. I got to speak with students from across the country on some pressing issues facing agriculture and rural America. The topics we discussed weren’t exactly light—from farm labor to food waste to opioid addiction. Still, I couldn’t help but leave the convention on a hopeful note. There are exceptional young people ready to take up the mission of American agriculture: It’s up to us to give them the right tools as they press forward.
As we advocate for agriculture and speak up on our need for new markets and a reliable workforce or access to the latest technology and strong farm programs, we aren’t just looking to answer the challenges of today, we are looking to protect the business of farming for the next generation. We need to think about how we can encourage these bright young people to return to the farm and their rural communities. We need to show them all the opportunities agriculture, and Farm Bureau, have to offer.
I first joined my county Farm Bureau as a young farmer myself, and the leadership training I received is still at the core of our Young Farmer and Rancher program today. Before joining Farm Bureau though, my ag leadership training began with 4-H, and if FFA had been at my school, I would have been a proud member there as well. The FFA theme this year, “Just One,” was an inspiring one—and one we could all take to heart. We all have a voice, and each one of us can make a difference, right where we are. Today a young person’s audience is far larger than ever before, thanks to modern technology and social media. That makes the training programs Farm Bureau offers all the more important. For FFA and 4-H kids, Farm Bureau membership should be the next stop on their journey of ag engagement. I’m excited to see the kids I met this last week attend their first AFBF Annual Convention—maybe even this January in New Orleans!
The next century of Farm Bureau and American agriculture is ripe with opportunity. With a booming population to feed, farmers and ranchers have a big task ahead, but we won’t be able to keep up without more young folks joining us out in the field. Of course, these kids’ wanting to come back home to their rural communities and farms won’t be enough if they don’t have access to the financial tools and technology they need to get started—or to keep the family farm running. Now, more than ever, we need a new farm bill that gives young farmers the opportunity they need to answer the call of agriculture. We need new trade deals across the globe that expand our markets and give us a level playing field to sell our products wherever there is demand for the highest quality food, fiber and fuel in the world. And we must keep moving our ag economy forward and rise to meet the demands of farming in the 21st century by finally getting all of rural America online with high-speed internet. While we can’t take all the risk out of farming, we can ensure the next generation has the opportunity to join in our life’s calling.
Thanks to solid ag education and organizations like FFA and 4-H, hard-working young people across the country are learning about agriculture and excited to do their part. Let’s be sure to give them a thriving industry to come home to when they graduate.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.