By Mace Thornton
The people of Farm Bureau have always made it an organization of distinction. Widely seen as a popular movement to advocate for agriculture and rural families when it was formed, the way we communicate today has meant a return to those roots, or perhaps more accurately, grassroots.
Today, public policy issues running the gamut from transportation and labor to trade and regulations are won or lost in our state and national capitals based on the personal stories shared by individual farmers and ranchers. Facts are still the foundation, but Farm Bureau’s farmers and ranchers communicating how issues are felt at the farm gate is paramount. And that, in a nutshell, is Farm Bureau’s value proposition.
The grassroots structure of Farm Bureau, from the American Farm Bureau Federation through the state and county organizations, is unmatched in the world of advocacy for agriculture. Farm Bureau is arguably the most effective organization of farmers and ranch families in the world, and it all goes back to the commitment of individual grassroots members and leaders.
I have seen this in varying degrees over the last 34 years as a member of the Farm Bureau staff. That time included a lot of farm tours, committee meetings and annual conventions. But what sticks out the most, and always will, is the personal stories of how issues affect Farm Bureau families at the farm and ranch level – whether it was a sweet corn grower in Rhode Island, a nursery producer in California or a wheat farmer in Kansas.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of writing countless speeches, columns and news releases. I have logged years of service with some of the most capable professional staff members in agriculture at the county, state and national levels of Farm Bureau. During that time, the organization has grown in terms of the application of modern communications strategy. As a result, the media profile of AFBF has been greatly elevated. That is more a testament to the AFBF Communications Team than it is to me. One constant throughout that time, however, has been the fact that Farm Bureau is fueled by grassroots passion that radiates from the land, the community and the balance sheet.
Unlike many organizations that try to wrap so-called grassroots campaigns around a hollow façade, with Farm Bureau there is never any doubt about whether the intent of grassroots Farm Bureau policy is being represented. Like all organizations, or for that matter any aspect of society these days, Farm Bureau has its share of critics. Due to its dominant profile in the world of agricultural policy advocacy, Farm Bureau is a big target for those who disagree, whether for reasons of ideology or envy. No organization is perfect, but when it comes to representing the will of its members in the public policy arena, Farm Bureau is unsurpassed and its commitment to members is unrivaled.
One thing that sets Farm Bureau as an organization apart from nearly all others is that if you are a farmer or rancher and you do not agree with a policy, you can work to change it. That does not mean you will automatically succeed, but Farm Bureau’s policy-setting process can be efficacious for anyone with an idea to make agriculture and rural America better and the ability to convince others to follow. And that is why Farm Bureau invests in its members, making sure they have the leadership and communication skills to answer the bell no matter when it rings.
As I sign off my duty as executive director of communications for AFBF, and a career that has encompassed a full one-third of AFBF’s 100 years of existence, I stand confident in the organization’s ability to endure through both good times and bad, just as it has since 1919. Even during the very serious and unprecedented challenges facing farmers and ranchers in 2019, the organization remains effective, responsive and the respected Voice of Agriculture when it comes to public policy advocacy.
While I look forward to a new professional opportunity with the United Soybean Board, I will fondly recall all the advances to agriculture Farm Bureau has helped fuel during my tenure. And for that reason, I look forward to many more years of Farm Bureau involvement, as a member who will continue to be #FarmBureauProud. It’s been my honor to serve.
Mace Thornton’s last day as executive director of communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation is June 7; he joins the United Soybean Board as vice president of communications and marketing on June 10.