Despite setting records in 2011 for net farm income, American Farm Bureau Federation President (AFBF) Bob Stallman told 7,500 farm leaders gathered for the annual convention in Honolulu that agriculture will be challenged by increasing regulations, a tight federal budget and growing scrutiny of food production methods during 2012.
“We no longer see our success primarily in Congress or the courtroom,” Stallman said during his opening address Sunday. “We must engage directly with the consumer as an industry in ways we haven’t before. And while we must fully engage in this ongoing national dialogue about food and the devoted care we take when we grow it, we must also never ever forget to listen.”
Limestone County young farmer Stan Usery, who represented Alabama in the AFBF Discussion Meet competition, seemed ready to accept Stallman’s challenge to be an advocate for agriculture as he participated in a committee-style debate on the public’s view of animal agriculture.
“It all starts with us,” Usery said. “We have to connect to our neighbors and consumers on a personal level. We have science on our side. The problem with that is science is not what they respond to.... I feel that it is our responsibility as producers and members of the ag community to be open and honest about how and why we produce the safest, most affordable meat products while also doing this in the most humane way possible.”
Usery was one of three Alabama young farmers who earned the right to compete in a national contest in Hawaii. Jena Perry, an agriscience teacher at Southern Choctaw County High School, represented Alabama in the Excellence in Agriculture contest, and Outstanding Young Farm Family Jeremy and Lindsey Brown of Montgomery County competed for the AFBF Achievement Award.
Alabama Farmers Federation Board Member Garry Henry, also of Montgomery County, congratulated the Browns for winning Alabama’s contest and praised them for their interest in teaching others about agriculture.
“We are extremely proud of Jeremy and Lindsey. They represented us well, and we hope we can continue to get other young farmers involved,” Henry said.
As for Henry, he said the AFBF annual convention is a great opportunity for Alabama farmers to share ideas with their peers across the country.
“I think the most important thing about this convention is that we get to network with other folks from other states and get an idea of what’s going on in their world,” Henry said. “We tend to have some of the same issues, so we can seek out solutions for our problems if they’ve had that same issue and been successful.”
Many of the challenges farmers like Henry are facing have to do with efforts by the Obama administration to increase regulations on everything from dust to the kinds of jobs a farm kid can do when helping his or her parents.
“According to information released by the Small Business Administration, one of every three dollars earned by Americans goes to pay for or comply with federal laws and regulations,” Stallman said. “Of course, the costs are not shared evenly. They fall hard on the backs of small businesses — like our family owned farms and ranches.”
Stallman pledged that AFBF would continue to fight those regulations at the agency level as well as in the courts. He said farmers across the country should especially be concerned about efforts to regulate farms near the Chesapeake Bay because success there could set a precedent for increased regulation in watersheds across the country.
Stallman asked voting delegates at the convention to give AFBF “clear direction” regarding the 2012 farm bill, which could see cuts of $30 to $50 billion as Congress looks to balance the budget.
Voting delegates set the tone for their business session early when they approved a resolution calling on Congress to balance the budget and begin reducing the federal debt by 2019.
Agricultural programs are intended to help farmers deal with big challenges they cannot handle alone, as opposed to providing guarantees against small reductions in annual revenue, Stallman said.
Meanwhile, Stallman praised farmers for their hard work and dedication to the values that made America strong. He received rousing applause when he contrasted farmers to groups protesting in major cities.
“Across our land, Farm Bureau members are occupying the farm fields, the pastures, the livestock barns,” Stallman said. “We are occupying the orchards and the vineyards. We are occupying the combine, and, yes, even the saddle. Ours is an occupation of production.... Our success makes everything else in our great nation possible — including the pitching of tents and the shouting of protest slogans.”
Throughout his address, Stallman challenged the farmers to build on their success by — as Usery advocated — talking to their neighbors and friends.
“It’s impossible to ignore a mobilized group of grassroots farm leaders,” he said. ”You see what needs to be done, you involve others around you, and together, we get the job done. From the environment...to the economy, trade and jobs, we have a great story to tell.”
During the AFBF Annual Meeting, the Alabama Farmers Federation was recognized with five Awards of Excellence in the areas of Leadership Development, Member Services, Policy Implementation, Agricultural Education and Promotion and Public Relations.
The St. Clair County Young Farmers received a County Award of Excellence for its work in establishing and caring for a vegetable garden at the Big Oak Boys and Girls Ranch. Rob and Angie McHugh of St. Clair County received a trip to Hawaii to man an exhibit booth, where they visited with convention attendees about the project.
The 2013 AFBF Annual Meeting is slated for Nashville, Tenn.