When we talk about the American Farm Bureau being the Voice of Agriculture, it’s not just a catchy trademark. We take that role seriously as we give a voice to all the issues impacting America’s farmers and ranchers. No issue is too small. Every day you are working—well before sun-up and long after sundown—to ensure our nation’s safe and sustainable supply of food, fiber and renewable fuel is secure, you can rest assured knowing that the American Farm Bureau has your back.
We are reading the fine print on legislation and regulations and working closely with staff and leaders on the ground in the states to be sure your farm businesses are being treated fairly. I’d like to highlight a few examples to give a snapshot of how your American Farm Bureau takes a stand against unjust treatment and predatory action and works to ensure all farmers get the support they need in times of crisis.
When it comes to regulations, all Americans have a right to clarity and due process. At Farm Bureau, we have long called for clear rules, and we believe that government agencies should be held accountable to play by the rules they set. A farmer shouldn’t have to hire a team of lawyers to follow guidelines on the farm, and no one should be forced to prove their innocence when they are playing by the rules.
Unfortunately, this is the situation farmers were forced into by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service when agents denied farmers and ranchers due process in its enforcement of conservation compliance. NRCS agents repeatedly stacked the deck against farmers, denying appeals and disregarding evidence that farmers were in fact following conservation guidelines. We stood up against this unfair treatment, calling on USDA to bring long-overdue reform to the broken conservation compliance process, and we will continue to call for NRCS to resolve this issue and promote an environment that recognizes farmers’ efforts to protect our precious natural resources.
Our legal team at AFBF rolls up their sleeves to defend the interests of agriculture and protect farm businesses. We sprang into action when we learned that lawyers were sending predatory letters on behalf of the bankrupt Dean Foods estate last fall, demanding dairy farmers refund money they legitimately earned. This kind of action was bullying, plain and simple. These lawyers put dairy farmers in an impossible position at a time most were struggling to even stay afloat through the COVID-19 pandemic. AFBF sent a letter to the law firm representing Dean Foods demanding that they stop this predatory action and cease any litigation against farmers who did business with the company. AFBF’s legal team also worked closely with state Farm Bureaus to help farmers fully resolve the issue by accessing a simple form, rather than a complicated legal process.
Being the Voice of Agriculture also means speaking up to ensure farmers and ranchers of all commodities, regions and business sizes have the support they need, especially in times of crisis or natural disaster. Throughout the pandemic, we have worked together at the national, state and county level to ensure that farmers have the resources they need to survive this storm and keep their businesses running. Our food security is critical to our national security. While federal relief packages for agriculture have helped many farmers struggling to hang on, not all farmers were included in the first rounds of aid. The American Farm Bureau advocated for contract growers who had been left out of initial CARES and CFAP programs. While these farmers don’t own their animals due to the business model of contract growing, they still suffered serious losses due to supply chain disruptions. Meanwhile, bills piled up from increased housing costs and in some cases, as barns sat empty and income dried up. AFBF worked closely with USDA to broaden coverage and bring relief to contract growers, and we succeeded. While there was a temporary freeze to review all CFAP programs, farmers and ranchers can once again apply for relief—and what’s more, the deadline for applications has been extended after we called on Secretary Vilsack to ensure all farmers and ranchers have the opportunity to apply.
Our success as the Voice of Agriculture comes from our grassroots structure. At American Farm Bureau our work at the national level comes directly from issues you bring forward at the county and state level. We become that one unified voice as we all work together to ensure farmers, ranchers and rural communities are able to thrive. So keep speaking up and letting us know how we can serve you better as we work together to strengthen agriculture and serve our neighbors, communities and country.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.