There's Snow Business Like Farm Business At AFBF Annual Meeting
By Debra Davis
A winter ice storm that nearly brought the Southeast's
largest city to a screeching halt didn't
stop nearly 6,000 farmers from carrying out
their business at the 92nd annual meeting of the
American Farm Bureau Federation in Atlanta,
|Walking to a delegate meeting at the Georgia World Congress
Center are, from left, Webb Holmes, Perry County; Garry
Henry, Montgomery County; and Terry Wyatt, Shelby County.|
Farmers from throughout the country,
including nearly 200 from Alabama, woke up
to several inches of snow followed by freezing
rain and ice that had the city nearly shut down
as the meeting got under way. But in typical
farmer fashion, they persevered and made their
way to meetings, seminars and work sessions
where they shaped the policy to be implemented
by the world's largest farm organization.
Alabama Farmers Federation member Art
Sessions of Mobile was among the Alabama
farmers who attended the meeting. He grows
peanuts, cotton and fruits and vegetables and said he
left Atlanta with a renewed sense of optimism about
"Based on what I heard, in the next few years, the
prospects for cotton, soybeans and all the markets look
great for agriculture," Sessions said. "These opportunities
make you want to expand. But on the other hand,
we've seen tough times before so if we expand we
should do it cautiously. It looks really good right now
for row crop producers and for cattlemen."
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Mike
Rowe, popular TV host of Dirty Jobs, were among the
speakers at the event and both praised farmers for the
work they do.
Vilsack told AFBF members that he and other
administration officials are working to ensure more
trade opportunities for American farmers by resolving
ongoing trade disputes, tapping into emerging markets
and building relationships in fragile, fledgling markets
Vilsack cautioned farmers that lawmakers will have
to be creative with limited resources as they draft the
2012 Farm Bill. However, he said the safety net critical
to so many producers will be preserved.
Vilsack expressed concern about America's economy,
but added that he is confident that it will recover.
It will take innovation and creativity, much
like what farmers do every day on their farms,
"We need an economy that creates and
innovates," Vilsack said. "We know it can
work because it's worked in agriculture."
Vilsack emphasized his appreciation for
all that growers contribute beyond food. Just
as farmers and ranchers have grown from
their troubles, the rest of the country has
something to learn from rural America where, for
every $1 in debt, there are $11 in assets, he said.
Rowe entertained the crowd with stories of
his on-farm visits filming the popular Discovery
Channel series Dirty Jobs and fielded questions
from the audience.
One attendee asked if he would be a spokesman
for agriculture. Rowe laughed and said
farmers didn't need a spokesman - "I am an
advocate for agriculture, but you - the farmers
of our country - are your own best spokesmen,"
he said. "No one can tell your story better than
As for so-called environmentalists and government
officials who try to give farmers grief
about today's modern agriculture, Rowe has a
"Find a farmer and scrape off the dirt and you'll
find the greenest person on the planet," he said.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob
Stallman gave a spirited address to members when
he said the organization is ready to face its opponents
with a new attitude."We are fighting back," he said.
Farmers discussed topics that ranged from environmental
policy and food safety to the 2012 farm bill and
use of social media during the conference.
Alabama Farmers Federation, with 425,903 members,
ranks sixth in the nation among AFBF organizations
and was recognized with four Awards of Excellence
in public relations and information, member
services, agriculture education and promotion and
leadership development. Alabama President Jerry
Newby accepted the awards for the organization.
Newby, who serves on the American Farm Bureau
Foundation for Agriculture board of directors, also
received special recognition for his leadership and
fundraising efforts for the foundation. Among AFBF
state organizations with large memberships, Alabama
was recognized for giving the most money to the Foundation
At the conference, the foundation revealed its new
online game "My American Farm." The game teaches
agricultural literacy to consumers and the public
through an interactive computer game where players
learn where food comes from in addition to learning
how products get from the farm to their dinner plate.
The game is available at MyAmericanFarm.org.
Alabama's Will Gilmer, the outgoing national chairman
of the AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee,
also was recognized during the meeting for his
service as a leader of the organization. Gilmer, a Lamar
County dairyman, also participated in the AFBF video
contest where farmers shared their on-farm experiences.
His video was among those featured on a giant
screen during the meeting's closing session as part of
AFBF's Farm/Ranch Families Work video contest.
Other Alabama young farmers represented the
state in national contests during the annual meeting,
which drew competitors from throughout the country.
Alabama's Outstanding Young Farm Family Josh
and Jessica Turner of DeKalb County competed in the
AFBF Young Farmers Achievement Award contest,
while Kirk Smith of Blount County participated in the Excellence in
Agriculture Contest and Katie Hines
of Madison County competed in the
Discussion Meet Contest.
The American Farm Bureau
Federation celebrated its 50th
consecutive year of membership
growth during the three-day