The 95th AFBF convention kicked off Sunday with the annual address by AFBF President Bob Stallman. He heaped sharp criticism on Washington, calling this Congress the most unproductive Congress in history, “Farmers and ranchers have been waiting for Congress to take action and work for solutions, waiting for them to put the nation’s needs above politics.” He called for action in 2014 on the Farm Bill, immigration reform, and water resource funding.
Stallman pointed out that Farm Bureau has had better success with many of its priorities than many other groups. Despite Congressional gridlock, few organizations have seen their key priorities passed by even one house of Congress, much less two, Stallman noted, “The progress we’ve made speaks to our grassroots strength, our strategic focus and our credibility as the nation’s Voice of Agriculture.”
On the regulatory front, securing farmers’ and ranchers’ privacy is a growing concern, as are attempts to challenge farmers’ ability to use modern technology to increase crop yields and food quality. “Instead of focusing on how to feed more and more people with existing land and water, and instead of allowing us to use food staples to address nutritional deficiencies in less-developed countries, some are intent on standing in the way,” Stallman said of state legislation and ballot initiatives that would require labels for foods made with biotech ingredients or even ban the use of biotechnology outright.
With the Environmental Protection Agency putting the wheels in motion late last year to propose extending federal regulatory authority to nearly every body of water in the country—and ultimately regulating so-called “waters” that aren’t even wet most of the time—farmers and ranchers are bracing for a fight. Farm Bureau has also been working through the courts to stop EPA’s attempts to broaden its regulatory reach. Disappointed with a loss in its case against the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay pollution limit rules, AFBF, along with Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, has appealed the ruling. “Once again, we are saddled-up for the long ride in our fight for rational regulations that allow farmers to continue feeding America,” Stallman said.
Stallman highlighted West Virginia poultry grower Lois Alt’s court battle against EPA’s unlawful water regulations as a testament to the powerful results that can be achieved when people work for the good of the whole. “Whether it’s a regulatory, legal or legislative issue, just think how much Farm Bureau could achieve if everyone was like Lois Alt—taking a long-term view and taking a stand for America’s farmers and ranchers,” he said.
One challenge that Farm Bureau has turned into an opportunity is the aging demographic in agriculture. Farm Bureau’s rural development initiatives—like the organization’s partnership with the Department of Agriculture on Start to Farm and its support for the recently launched Farmer Veteran Coalition—put beginning farmers and ranchers on the path to success.
Stallman encouraged Farm Bureau members to take part in the Farmer Veteran Coalition’s effort to help create opportunities on farms for those returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.