Over the past few months, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with nearly all state Farm Bureau presidents and their top staff. I have come away from these meetings even more impressed by how Farm Bureau’s elected and staff leaders are devoted to keeping agriculture strong.
I’ve attended four regional meetings, as well as the American Farm Bureau’s annual Council of Presidents meeting attended by presidents from all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Discussions about what excites us about agriculture’s future and what keeps us up at night showed how our Farm Bureau leaders are abreast of trends, threats and opportunities.
In the Southern region, I saw a great presentation on the importance of the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, at the end of the Mississippi River, to our ability to ship farm goods to foreign markets. Infrastructure issues were top-of-mind in all four regions, from improving roads and bridges needed to get farm products to market and get customers to our farms, to increasing rural America’s access to broadband Internet.
Access to broadband is an issue that fires up Farm Bureau members everywhere I go. It’s an issue that crosses over from direct farming impact to quality of life for farm families. On the direct farming impact side, broadband is necessary for farmers to use modern technologies and techniques that let them use just the right amount of fertilizer, pesticides and fuel. That helps them farm smarter—growing more food for a growing population and protecting our environment. On the quality of life side, we must ensure access to educational, health care and economic resources to attract young people back to our rural, farming communities.
Broadband is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity! That’s why Farm Bureau is asking everyone to contact your members of Congress and urge them to support the Broadband Data Improvement Act. The bill will change how we map areas that don’t have broadband, so we get a better picture of where we need to do more work and commit more resources. I hope you will join us in urging Congress to pass the bill.
In the Midwest, much of the discussion was focused on this year’s flooding, trade challenges and farm economy—the triple threat or perfect storm that has hit farmers and ranchers in the region and elsewhere. What I heard is most farmers and ranchers support efforts to make China play by the rules of fair trade, but the Administration must negotiate an end to this trade war sooner rather than later. Even with the financial assistance the President has provided, and we are grateful for it, farmers and ranchers cannot hold on forever without a market for what we grow. We need to reopen access to China, as well as pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to modernize trade with our nearest neighbors. USMCA approval will let our trading partners near and far know that we mean business when we negotiate trade deals.
In the West, federal lands and endangered species issues, of course, were a main topic. Western ranchers and the state Farm Bureaus that work for them are supporting a federal rule, long overdue, to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list. Wolf numbers far exceed the recovery targets set under the Endangered Species Act, and ranchers fear for the safety of their livestock. Delisting does not open up a free-for-all against wolves; on the contrary, gray wolves would continue to be managed under state conservation programs, while also allowing farmers and ranchers to protect their animals. Three successive presidential administrations have supported delisting because the wolf population numbers are clear. It’s time for agriculturalists and activists to join together in declaring the win and supporting the next step: delisting. A comment period on the federal rule has closed, and now we wait for the final decision.
In the Northeast, there was a lot of discussion about the cost and availability of agricultural labor. With states like Massachusetts and New York passing increases in their state minimum wage, and other states like Connecticut considering wage hikes, many farmers in the region worry they won’t be able to afford workers, if they can even hire them in the first place. A national solution to our agricultural labor shortage, one that sets a fair, market-based wage, is needed now more than ever to ensure that agriculture can survive in every state.
Northeast farmers are also struggling with the overpopulation of deer nibbling their crops. While deer management is more of a state and local issue, farmers and ranchers in every region deal with wildlife, such as the overpopulation of wild horses and burros in the West. They need to be able to reach commonsense compromises with activists and governments to properly manage populations and protect their crops and animals.
In fact, there was a lot of overlap across the regions. For example, everyone is concerned about the toll the farm economy is taking on farmers’ mental health. We discussed ways that Farm Bureau is working to raise awareness of rural stress and share information about resources available to farmers and the Farm Bureau staff members who serve them.
The discussions at all these meetings confirm that our national policy priorities truly are national in scope—they affect farmers and ranchers in every part of the nation, even if they bubble up in different ways and at different times across states and regions. Our farmer members are looking to us and their elected officials in Washington to work for national solutions on these issues and more.
We also had good dialog about the mission and goals of our organization. I’m grateful that our elected leaders of Farm Bureau are engaged in this discussion and committed to maintaining a strong national Voice of Agriculture.
American agriculture truly is in good hands with these Farm Bureau leaders working for our farmers and ranchers. I want to thank all the state leaders who welcomed me to your meetings. I’m grateful for our national farm organization, and I’m Farm Bureau Proud to work alongside you for all our farmers and ranchers.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.