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January 11, 2009   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
January 11, 2009

Lamar County dairy farmer Will Gilmer visits with farmers attending the AFBF Annual Meeting in San Antonio following his talk on the importance of farmers telling their stories.
SAN ANTONIO-- Contests for young farmers, informative seminars and a state awards program highlighted the first day of the American Farm Bureau Federation's (AFBF) 90th Annual Meeting in San Antonio, as 146 Alabama farmers joined about 5,000 Farm Bureau members from across the country in answering the rallying cry to march "Forward" as the Voice of Agriculture.

"Today, we kick off AFBF's 90th year. By gathering under the common banner of Farm Bureau, we, like our forefathers, are uniting to do things we could never do alone," said President Bob Stallman during the opening session of the meeting. "As we send AFBF on a path of progress toward its centennial celebration, I repeat a call issued many years ago by AFBF's second president, Oscar Bradfute, when I say - 'Forward, Farm Bureau.'"

Among those charged with leading the nation's largest farm organization into the next century of service will be the group's Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&R). Following Stallman's comments, 10 finalists were announced for the YF&R Achievement Award, including Chip and Lisa Stacey of Conecuh County, Alabama. The Staceys qualified for the contest by winning the Alabama Farmers Federation Outstanding Young Farm Family award in December. They will now compete with other finalists from Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Tennessee for the top award, which will be announced Monday.

The Achievement Award recognizes full-time farmers and ranchers for their accomplishments, while the Excellence in Agriculture contest is designed for young professionals who promote agriculture through off-farm jobs and volunteer work. A third YF&R contest, Discussion Meet, gives producers a chance to develop leadership and public speaking skills as they compete in panel discussions about relevant farm issues.

Representing Alabama in the Excellence in Agriculture contest was Michael Counts of Jackson County. Brett Mack of Covington County competed in the Discussion Meet. Both earned the chance to travel to San Antonio by winning state competitions in December.

During the first round of the Discussion Meet, Mack emphasized the need to encourage young people to become involved in their local Farm Bureau and Farmers Federation organizations.

"We have to see the people who have a general interest in agriculture - in farming and ranching - and show them the door to go through to get involved," Mack said. "We also have to challenge our leaders. If you don't challenge (young) leaders, they become stagnant. And when they become stagnant, they become disinterested."

Throughout the first two days of the AFBF Annual Meeting, farmers and ranchers can attend a variety of seminars as well as visit a trade show featuring farm suppliers and creative projects by other Farm Bureau members.

This year, Ray Boyd of Enterprise, Ala., was one of 15 farmers from across the nation invited to demonstrate his innovative idea at the meeting. Boyd's "Ant Bait Applicator" is designed to mount on the front of a zero-turn mower, allowing the operator to treat fire ant mounds without leaving the driver's seat.

In addition, 2008 Alabama Farmers Federation Young Farmers Chairman Will Gilmer of Lamar County was among the presenters at this year's annual meeting. Gilmer, who operates a dairy farm with his parents, was one of three speakers who addressed the need for farmers to counter misinformation about animal welfare by telling their personal stories.

Gilmer, who maintains a dairyman's blog on his website, www.gilmerdairy.com, said he was spurred to be more of a "farmer activist" after attending the AFBF's Ag Challenges Initiative media training in Huntsville last May.

"I knew that most Americans didn't understand what we (farmers) do, but I thought they trusted us. I learned their trust is something we can't take for granted," said Gilmer. "While we have been silent, our opponents on the other side have been putting out misinformation.

"We can't think that 'activist' is a dirty word anymore," he added. "It's going to take all of us becoming activists to counter the misinformation. We have the truth on our side, but we have to be willing to tell our story."

Stallman echoed Gilmer's sentiments in his opening remarks.

"Today, too many Americans wrongly suspect that cold, faceless corporations own and operate our farms and ranches," Stallman said. "We must continue to tell our own personal stories of agriculture, of what we do and why we love it. We must put a family perspective on the many issues facing us. By sharing our personal stories, more Americans will come to understand that the family connection to agriculture is strong."

During the opening general session, Alabama Farmers Federation, a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation, won Awards of Excellence in all five program areas: Ag Education & Promotion, Leadership Development, Member Services, Policy Implementation and Public Relations & Information.

On Monday, the conference will continue with more seminars, the YF&R awards and a keynote address by former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley. Tuesday, 369 farmer and rancher delegates, representing the 50 states and Puerto Rico, will discuss and approve a book of policies that will guide the programs and activities of AFBF.

Click here for more pictures from the AFBF 90th Annual Meeting in San Antonio.

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