BENTLEY, BLUEGRASS MARK FEDERATION'S 89TH ANNUAL MEETING
MOBILE, Ala. -- From Governor-elect Dr. Robert Bentley to bluegrass musician Ricky Skaggs, farmers from across Alabama were applauded Sunday as the Alabama Farmers Federation held its 89th annual meeting at Mobile's Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center.
Against a backdrop of "Agriculture: A Growing Story," Bentley addressed the opening session of the two-day event, telling about 1,200 farm families that they continue to play an important role in Alabama's future.
"When I first ran for legislature...we had a bill, I don't even remember what it was about ... but I was talking to a lot of farmers so I was asked by a newspaper reporter, 'How many farmers do you have in your district?' I said, 'I don't think I have any.' He says, 'Then why are you supporting farmers?' I said, 'I like to eat,'" Bentley recalled.
Bentley, making his first stop in the port city since his election last month, noted that the New Testament often uses agriculture as examples of how to live. "As a farmer, you live by faith because you have so little control over so many things, but you still continue farming," said Bentley. "I want you to know how much I appreciate that, and the people of this state ought to appreciate that. You're one of the largest industries in this state, and that's why we can begin to continue to create jobs. The people of this country ought to appreciate what you do every day and the hard work that you do."
Bentley also cited the New Testament Book of James in warning that Alabama is facing many "trials" in the coming days. "Trials can make you stronger," he said. "This is the time of trials. So we need to use it as that; we need to look at it as that and we need to make a stronger state. We need to look at areas where we can make government more efficient, where we can consolidate, where we can do away with duplication. ... The thing we need to remember in the government is this: The taxpayer is the customer, and the customer is the one we need to be serving."
The opening session also saw Federation President Jerry Newby preside over the annual report, and present Dr. John Wheat, founder and director of the University of Alabama's Rural Health Leaders Pipeline Programs, the Service to Agriculture Award.
Noting that only 9 percent of the doctors in the U.S. serve in rural areas where 20 percent of the population lives, Newby thanked Wheat "for believing in rural Alabama."
Wheat, in turn, thanked the Federation for its support. He also thanked the young students in his charge. "I want to thank the children of rural Alabama. They've taught me that you don't need to look elsewhere to find a doctor for rural Alabama. Just give them the bucket and they'll carry the water," said Wheat. "Even the children of the most impoverished part of the state, the Black Belt, have shown that with a nurturing and supportive context, they will get the job done. It's my opinion that it's a great opportunity before us today to help these children do just that, to help them bring home homegrown doctors to rural Alabama, to the Black Belt, to the farmers and the small towns where they have not had doctors in such a long time."
Later Sunday evening, close to 1,000 Federation members crowded into the nearby Saenger Theatre for a concert by Grammy Award-winning bluegrass musician Ricky Skaggs.
Federation members tapped their toes and clapped their hands as Skaggs performed such bluegrass standards as "Uncle Pen," "Sis Draper," "Salty Dog" and "Cajun Moon" along with several cuts from his new album "Mosaic," which has received critical acclaim and yet another Grammy nomination.
"God bless you farmers because we need you!" Skaggs told the audience. "We need farms and folks raising food. I know we've talked about doing that at my own house, growing a few little things for us and a few friends around there. My dad raised enough for everybody on the creek. He'd make enough potatoes for everybody. We could never eat that many of them. But farmers are important to all of us."
The meeting continues today as outstanding county Farmers Federations and individual and senior farm leaders are recognized during an awards ceremony. Jim Cox of the East Lauderdale News will receive the Federation's Communications Award for excellence in print journalism. A voting delegates session will elect board seats for Districts 2, 5, 8 and 11, vice-presidents for the Northern and Southeastern Districts and president.
Convention-goers will also have an opportunity to sit in on ag issues briefings by Steve Flick, board president of the Show Me Energy Cooperative in Centerview, Mo., and Dennis Wiese, a consultant in growth energy from Flandreau, S.D.
Kirk Smith of Blount County, winner of the Federation's Excellence in Agriculture contest, will gave his winning presentation during the Young Farmers banquet and will be recognized during the closing session. Smith will receive $500 from Dodge, $500 from the Farmers Federation and will represent Alabama in the national competition in Atlanta. Kelly Pritchett of Pike County was runner-up in the state contest.
Four finalists -- Josh Turner of DeKalb County, Mike Dole of St. Clair County, Katie Hines of Madison County and Allie Corcoran of Barbour County -- will compete in the organization's annual Discussion Meet during the closing session. The Discussion Meet seeks to develop leadership, problem-solving and consensus-building skills among young farmers through competitive discussions in a committee meeting format. The winner will go on to represent Alabama at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 2011 Discussion Meet in Atlanta. Last year's state Discussion Meet winner, Jennifer Cruise of Morgan County, went on to reach the finals of the national competition in Seattle.
The highlight of the meeting will be selection of the Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF). The annual OYFF contest recognizes young farmers between the ages of 17 and 35 who do an outstanding job in farm, home and community activities. The winner, revealed at Monday night's closing session, will receive a John Deere Gator courtesy of Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit, a personal computer package courtesy of ValCom/CSS Wireless, a one-year lease on a John Deere tractor courtesy of Tri-Green, Sun South and Snead Ag dealers, $500 cash from Dodge, use of a new Chevrolet Traverse from the Alabama Farmers Federation for one year and other prizes. The winner also goes on to compete at the national level for a new Dodge Ram 3500.
The six OYFF finalists, selected from 10 commodity winners, are: Garrett and Emily Henry, Montgomery County, Beef Division; Davy and Heather Wright, Dallas County, Greenhouse, Nursery & Sod Division; Jeff and Randi Whitaker, DeKalb County, Hay & Forage Division; Jeremy and Julie Calvert, Cullman County, Horticulture Division; Colby and Jaclyn Willoughby, Houston County, Peanut Division; and Josh and Jessica Turner, DeKalb County, Poultry Division.