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January 18, 2011   Email to Friend 

There's Snow Business Like Farm Business At AFBF Annual Meeting
By Debra Davis

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.
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, Jan. 9-11.

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 agriculture's future.

"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 like Afghanistan.

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, he said.

"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 you do."

As for so-called environmentalists and government officials who try to give farmers grief about today's modern agriculture, Rowe has a suggestion.

"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 for Agriculture.

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 conference.

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