88th Annual Meeting Sends Message: 'Agriculture Is The Answer'
By Darryal Ray
The Alabama Farmers Federation kicked off its 88th Annual Meeting at Mobile's Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center Dec. 6, sending a message that "Agriculture Is The Answer" for many issues facing America and the world today.
|Newly elected and re-elected Alabama Farmers Federation board members and directors are, seated from left, Richard Edgar of Elmore County, District 7; Gloria Jeffcoat of Houston County, State Women's Chairman; Darrel Haynes of Cullman County, District 4; and Carl Sanders of Coffee County, District 10; standing, from left, are Steve Dunn of Conecuh County, secretary-treasurer; Jake Harper of Wilcox County, vice president of the Southwest Region; Jeff Maze of Blount County, State Young Farmers Chairman; Joe Dickerson of Lauderdale County, District 1; and Dean Wysner of Randolph County, vice president of the Central Region.|
About 1,200 Federation members from throughout the state, along with several state dignitaries, gathered for the meeting that was marked by several changes. This year's event was not only shortened from its usual three-day format to only two days, but it also moved all meetings and sessions to the spacious, modern convention center.
During Sunday's opening general session, Federation President Jerry A. Newby presented the organization's highest honor, the Service to Agriculture Award, to Dr. Richard Guthrie, retiring dean of Auburn University's College of Agriculture and director of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station.
In presenting the award, Newby noted the major changes that have taken place since Guthrie first attended Auburn on a football scholarship in 1958 and embarked on a career in soils and agronomy.
"Farmers now use less fertilizer, they use less chemicals and they use precision agriculture and it is proving to be a better, smarter and cheaper way to do business," said Newby. "Soil scientists like Dr. Guthrie are one reason for that. By helping farmers better understand the soil beneath their feet, they have enabled our farmers to produce better and more abundant crops."
Newby also hailed Guthrie for recognizing the challenges ahead for agriculture, and the answers it can provide in energy from bio-mass, water resource management and plant and animal genetics. "He's always listening to our farmers and what they need," Newby said. "He's a true friend of the farmer."
Two retiring members of the Federation staff, Administrator J. Paul Till and Executive Director Mike Kilgore, were also presented with Special Service to Agriculture Awards in recognition of their service to the Federation's efforts in advancing agriculture.
Till, who retired Nov. 30, was recognized for a 34-year-career which included the creation of the Federation's Neighbors magazine and the Farming Feeds Alabama public relations campaign. Kilgore, who will retire Jan. 31, was recognized for more than 35 years with the Federation.
During that time, he helped bolster its Young Farmers program, worked to defeat a state lottery proposal and Amendment One and helped win an exemption for agricultural vehicles from federal Department of Transportation registration.
Elaine Brackin, managing editor of the Dothan Progress, was presented the Federation's Communications Award not only for her willingness to tell the story of agriculture, but also for aiding in the efforts to establish the first Poplar Head Farmers Market in downtown Dothan.
The first graduates of the Alabama Leaders For Agriculture (A.L.F.A. Leaders) class were also recognized as having completed an intensive two-year learning experience focusing on personal development, political involvement, effective communication and other skills.
The first graduating class included: John Bitto, Baldwin; Jeff Maze, Blount; Jeremy Goss, Calhoun; Mark Gaines, Cherokee; Ben Haynes, Cullman; Heather Wright, Dallas; Samuel Prim and Colby Willoughby, both of Houston; Richard Holladay, Lowndes; Blair Sistrunk, Macon; Jackie Tate, Madison; Robert Cruise, Morgan; Steve Stroud, Pike; Renee Fochtman, Shelby; and Walt Richardson and Mark Platt, both of Washington.
In Monday afternoon's elections, Steve Dunn of Conecuh County, Jake Harper of Wilcox County and Dean Wysner of Randolph County each retained their positions as the Federation's state officers.
Dunn, a row crop and cattle farmer, was re-elected as secretary-treasurer of the 400,000-plus member organization.
Harper, a cattle and timber farmer, was unopposed in his two-year term as vice president of the Southwest Region, an area that includes Baldwin, Butler, Clarke, Choctaw, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Hale, Lowndes, Marengo, Mobile, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Sumter, Washington and Wilcox counties.
Wysner, a Randolph County cattle and hay producer, retained his post as vice president of the Central Region, which includes Autauga, Bibb, Calhoun, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Fayette, Greene, Jefferson, Lamar, Pickens, Randolph, St. Clair, Shelby, Talladega, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties.
Elections were also held for four district board positions, which have three-year terms. Cullman County cattleman Darrel Haynes took the District 4 seat, a rotating position in that district. District 4 includes Blount, Cullman, Marshall and Winston counties.
Another new board member is Coffee County peanut producer Carl Sanders of Brundidge who took the District 10 board seat. That district includes Barbour, Bullock, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw and Pike counties.
Lauderdale County soybean farmer Joe Dickerson was re-elected to the District 1 seat, which includes Colbert, Franklin, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Marion and Walker counties. Elmore County row crop farmer Richard Edgar retained the District 7 seat representing Chambers, Coosa, Elmore, Lee, Macon, Russell and Tallapoosa counties.
Elected to one-year, ex-officio terms on the state board were Women's Committee Chairman Gloria Jeffcoat of Houston County and State Young Farmers Chairman Jeff Maze of Blount County. Both of Maze's parents, Dennis and Kay, have served on the state board as district director and women's chairman, respectively.
Throughout the meeting, members were urged to sign a petition drive launched by the American Farm Bureau Federation in opposition to the proposed climate change legislation. The "Don't Cap Our Future" booth netted more than 300 additional signatures to be sent to lawmakers.
Mark Maslyn, the AFBF's executive director of Public Policy Development, told a packed room during the "Ag Issues Briefing" that farmers must speak out on climate change as well as other issues such as food safety, estate tax and health care.
"Don't ever be hesitant to get involved and let people know what you think. Become an influencer," Maslyn said. "It's a relational business. It's who you know -- in a good way. You get to know these people; they get to know you. You respect them; they respect you. You help them; they help you. That's the way it is. It's your government, and these people represent you."
The Young Farmers held a silent auction to benefit the Alabama FFA Foundation, raising $18,653. County Federations and Alabama FFA contributed 114 items for the auction.
The Women's Division was kept busy weighing aluminum pop tabs contributed by counties as part of its ongoing fundraising effort for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama. Clay County brought in 126.68 pounds of pop tabs to the meeting, bringing Clay's total output for the year to 184 pounds.