Spring is one of my favorite seasons on the farm. It’s a time of new life, fresh starts and, most of all, hope. Farmers and ranchers are some of the most hopeful people around. We can’t help it: it’s part of our DNA. We have to believe that the next season will be better than the last because we love the work we have been called to do.
I love the Bible verse that says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I can’t think of a better description of what it takes to endure as a farmer or rancher. I believe that faith in God can carry us through all the valleys and mountaintops of life. That’s an especially encouraging word for farmers and ranchers as our work comes with more unknowns than most. Farm life brings both unplanned hard times and surprising, rich blessings. It takes faith to plant a crop without knowing what the weather or the markets will hold across the year and at harvest time. Faith to find the workers you’ll need in time for tending and harvesting that crop. And faith to pick up the pieces and start again in the face of trial and hardship.
President Ronald Reagan often enjoyed retelling a conversation he once had on his way to address the Farm Bureau annual meeting in Las Vegas: “And on my way to the hall, a fellow recognized me and asked what I was doing in Las Vegas. And I told him what I was there for. And he said what are a bunch of farmers doing in a place like Las Vegas? And I couldn't resist. I said, ‘Buster, they're in a business that makes a Las Vegas craps table look like a guaranteed annual income.’”
Decades later, that story still gets a chuckle, but farmers and ranchers know the hard truth behind it. Many of us pressed on through the recession in the 1980s. Now, a new generation is seeing the steepest drop in farm income since then. When we add in the impact of an ongoing trade war and the devastation from hurricanes, wildfires and flooding, our faith is truly being tested.
But when I travel the country and meet with many of you, I hear stories of hope. Folks who are not ready to quit even in the face of the toughest times. Folks who are hopeful for the future of agriculture because we know how far we’ve come and what we can accomplish when we work alongside our friends and neighbors. Our faith doesn’t come easy, but it is strong, and it makes our families and communities stronger.
We are stronger when we work together and help our neighbors, like many of you have done for those who lost so much to the devastating storms across the Midwest recently. Congress could certainly follow this example as they work on a disaster relief bill for farmers and ranchers. Times of crisis are times when we should come together.
Using FEMA data and data from a recent Feeding the Economy study, sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation and other groups, AFBF economists estimate the total economic contribution of agriculture in areas hit by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019 is more than $80 billion and includes 419,000 ag-related jobs. Our lawmakers need to set politics aside for the good of our farmers, our food security and our economy.
I still have hope that our lawmakers can come together for agriculture and for what we can accomplish together as spring blossoms here in Washington. There are policies that will soon be ripe for harvest, from trade to regulatory reform. With USMCA, we have protected the gains of our trade partnership with Canada and Mexico: Now it’s time to urge Congress to get the deal done. Meanwhile, we will continue to work toward finding solutions to remaining challenges like seasonality issues with fruit and vegetable imports. And finally, after years of grassroots and legal advocacy, we are one step closer to a Clean Water Rule that provides much-needed clarity for farmers and ranchers. The comment period closes Monday, and EPA and the Corps want to hear from each of us. Let’s be sure we have spoken up in support of this new rule.
There’s no doubt that the last few seasons have been tough for many in agriculture. From some of the pictures I’ve seen of the impacts of the Midwest flooding, I certainly could understand if things look hopeless. But just as spring returns every year and plants push through the soil, farmers and ranchers push through the hard times. Our hope is perennial and as sure as the seasons. We will endure. We will press on in the hope of a better and more bountiful harvest.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. You can follow him on Twitter @ZippyDuvall.