American Farm Bureau Federation members gathered in Nashville, TN, for their 94th Annual meeting.
Farm Bureau members faced the challenge of drought in 2012, but scored major policy victories, including permanent estate and capital gains tax changes.
With a new five-year farm bill and needed reform in key areas such as fiscal, environmental and labor policy hanging in the balance, agricultural unity will be essential in 2013, according to American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.
"Lest anyone wonder why we need a farm bill, we should remember the drought of 2012," Stallman told more than 6,000 Farm Bureau members. "More than half of the country was in a severe drought last summer. Crops withered, hay supplies disappeared, feed costs soared and wildfires blazed. Thankfully, our crop insurance program worked as intended and we lived to fight another day."
Beyond the farm bill, Stallman said it is also time for America's elected leaders to put political differences aside for the good of the nation.
Stallman said that recently enacted permanent reform of estate and capital gains taxes was a long-sought victory - "one that Farm Bureau members worked hard to achieve."
Unity within Farm Bureau, despite agriculture's amazing diversity, is what made the difference in the long fight for these important reforms, he said.
Stallman outlined legal cases that AFBF has been involved in, including an ongoing suit challenging over-reaching Environmental Protection Agency water regulations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
He also highlighted the case of West Virginia poultry farmer Lois Alt, who brought suit against the EPA regarding unlawful water regulations.
The judge in that case earlier ruled that both AFBF and the West Virginia Farm Bureau could join that case on behalf of other farmers and ranchers who could be affected by EPA actions.
Stallman said that American agriculture is also standing together on the issue of agricultural labor. He said farmers need a workforce that is "legal, stable and reliable."
"For too long, we have dealt with the shortcomings of a broken farm labor system," Stallman said. "The results have been labor shortages, lost crops and bureaucratic nightmares. Our nation's leaders can't continue to avoid this issue. We need solutions."
Stallman said Farm Bureau, working in conjunction with the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, will this year offer "a reasonable, practical and common-sense farm labor option that works for growers and workers alike."
Farm Bureau members, in particular, are known for coming together to make progress on common issues, according to Stallman, a rice and cattle producer from Texas.
"It's impressive to see farmers and ranchers from pastures, orchards and fields across every region of our country come together and determine what is in the best interest of agriculture overall," Stallman said. Expounding on the theme of the meeting, Stallman added, "We truly are 'Many Voices, One Vision.'"
Stallman praised farmers and ranchers for their innovation and productivity, sufficient to "meet the diverse and growing food demands" of today's consumers. "Consumer tastes are all over the map, and they continue to change," he said.
One thing that will never change is that consumers need farmers and ranchers to continue to work hard to produce food, Stallman said.
"Each farmer already feeds an average of 155 people and estimates are that food production must double to meet global demand," Stallman said.
He encouraged Farm Bureau members to tell their personal stories about how they are using fewer resources to grow crops and produce meat, milk and eggs.
"Consumers really listen when we talk about our desire to continually improve sustainability, quality and safety on our farms," he said. "We must open our doors-and maybe more importantly, open our minds-to consumers and their perspectives about food and agriculture."
Vilsack urges farmers to reach out
Last year was a tough one for farmers and ranchers, and while many are anxious to put it behind them, a number of 2012's key events will be driving the Agriculture Department's efforts in 2013, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told attendees.
Chief among those events was the drought and its continuing ramifications, like the significantly low Mississippi River levels.
Key lessons Vilsack said he learned from the drought are "the extraordinary resilience of our producers" and the importance of a safety net for agriculture.
In that vein, Vilsack said he and the department will continue to push for passage of a five-year farm bill.
Along with a strong and viable safety net, key components of the legislation are provisions related to reforming credit and conservation programs and continuing the country's commitment to enhancing trade. Research and biofuels will be important elements, too.
Vilsack also focused on rural America, urging Farm Bureau members to tap into the opportunities a biobased economy presents, "whether producing cutting-edge new products or advanced biofuels from crops and plant products."
A newly created "USDA Biobased Product" label will link manufacturers of more than 25,000 plant-based products with buyers. The label will help promote production of feedstocks to be converted into biofuel.
In addition, research and loan support will promote the development of new-generation refineries.
In addition, USDA will concentrate on promoting investment in rural America through research and collaboration.
"We must create new agricultural products that provide a renewed opportunity for the next generation of American farmers," Vilsack said.
Equally critical to farmers' and ranchers' future is regaining the clout rural America once had. One way to do that is by building strategic alliances in rural America, but not limiting relationships to those in agriculture.
"We have to extend beyond talking to ourselves," Vilsack said. "We must embrace diversity."
As an example, groups that are pressing for immigration reform, like those that represent Hispanic interests, would be natural allies.
"I have a feeling 2013 is the year people begin to pay a lot of attention to what goes on in rural America," Vilsack concluded.
Call for Flexible, Insurance-based
Voting delegates to the annual meeting expressed support for a bipartisan, reform-minded farm bill, crafted around a broad, flexible, crop-insurance-based program, including risk-management protection for peanuts, rice, forage and specialty crops.
"After ending a long year of policy uncertainty culminating with an extension of the old bill, we will push hard, in cooperation with our congressional and administration allies, for a five-year farm bill that provides our farmers certainty and extends much-needed risk management tools across more acres and more crops," said Stallman.
Delegates said AFBF would not only support a farm bill with a strong safety net and risk management programs to protect farmers from catastrophes, but they also would work for programs that provide emergency assistance for livestock and tree producers not covered by federal crop insurance programs.
Delegates reaffirmed policy supporting changes to the dairy safety net, consistent with the margin insurance programs included in versions of the farm bill approved by the House and Senate Ag Committees.
On another dairy issue, delegates approved a new policy that states only pasteurized milk and milk products should be sold for human consumption. Delegates approved the measure in light of the potential risks to public health and food safety posed by consumption of raw milk.
On national fiscal policy, delegates reaffirmed the importance of a sound budget process with a priority on spending restraints rather than tax increases.
Delegates also voted to support streamlining or replacement of the H-2A seasonal and temporary agricultural worker program in addition to allowing experienced, undocumented agricultural workers to adjust to legal status.
"Only comprehensive immigration reform through legislation can solve the agricultural worker problem," Stallman said.
Recognizing the important role played by agricultural biotechnology and rapid developments in the industry, delegates expressed continued support of a private-sector, industry accord to govern how biotech traits are managed when patents expire.
They also reiterated support for the continued implementation of an industry solution that promotes investment and marketability of new technologies.
On regulatory policy, delegates said that "all federal agencies shall be held to the strictest interpretation of law when setting regulations" and "no federal agency shall be allowed to legislate through their regulatory power."
They also said that "no regulatory action should be taken against landowners based on satellite or aerial imagery."
Delegates expressed concern about the advantage that Internet retail sellers have over local merchants when it comes to charging sales tax.
They noted that in addition to lost revenues that affect rural communities' budgets, the resources those communities have for economic development activities also are reduced.
Delegates voted to support greater flexibility within the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.
Specifically, they voted to oppose mandatory limits on calories and serving sizes for lean meats, protein-rich foods and dairy products, believing that local school districts are best able to determine how to meet the nutritional needs of their students.
At the annual meeting, 362 voting delegates, representing every crop and livestock sector in the 50 states and Puerto Rico, deliberated on policies affecting farmers' and ranchers' productivity and profitability.
The policies approved at the annual meeting will guide the nation's largest general farm organization in its legislative and regulatory efforts throughout 2013.
Grassroots Leaders elected
The delegates newly elected three state Farm Bureau presidents to the AFBF board of directors: Richard Bonanno of Massachusetts (Northeast Region), Jimmy Parnell of Alabama (Southern Region) and Don Shawcroft of Colorado (Western Region).
Fourteen other state Farm Bureau presidents were re-elected to represent their regions on the AFBF board of directors:
• Midwest Region - Craig Hill of Iowa, Kevin Paap of Minnesota, Don Villwock of Indiana and Wayne Wood of Michigan.
• Southern Region - Ronnie Anderson of Louisiana, Kenneth Dierschke of Texas, Zippy Duvall of Georgia, Mike Spradling of Oklahoma, Lacy Upchurch of Tennessee and Larry Wooten of North Carolina.
• Northeast Region - Dean Norton of New York and Carl Shaffer of Pennsylvania. Western Region - Perry Livingston of Wyoming and Paul Wenger of California.
Zach Hunnicutt, a crop farmer from Nebraska, was elected the new chairman of the AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee, which also makes him a member of the AFBF board of directors during his one-year term.
Terry Gilbert of Kentucky was re-elected to serve a two-year term as chair of the AFB Women's Leadership Committee and on the AFBF board of directors. Vice-chair Sherry Saylor was re-elected to a two-year term on the committee.
Sue Billiot of Arkansas, Marieta Hauser of Kansas, Vicki Malloy of Washington and Debbi Tanner of Connecticut were elected to two-year terms on the committee.
Farm Bureau members will gather for the 95th AFBF Annual Meeting, Jan. 12-15, 2014, in San Antonio, TX.
Weather Continues to Dictate Crop Prices
The top two factors influencing crop markets in 2013 will be the weather and the potential for a rebound in demand, which diminished last year with drought-driven high prices, Dr. Chad Hart told growers at the annual meeting.
Still, despite so many uncertainties, prices for corn and soybeans will remain historically high, according to Hart, associate professor and Extension economist at Iowa State University.
"We're not done feeling the effects of the weather system that's hit us over the past couple of years," the grain markets specialist said during AFBF's session on the outlook for corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton.
Of the decline in corn demand, Hart said it had to happen.
"When we saw the drought coming, prices went up, demand went down. The question for 2013 is, can we move forward?"
Hart said a slight increase in demand for corn for feed suggests we can push past the pinch of high prices.
In addition, better-than-expected yields and the moderating of prices bode well for upping demand.
Although the corn export market has been cut in half because of higher prices, growers are taking little notice with domestic feed needs driving much of the demand, according to Hart.
On the other hand, climbing prices have had little effect on international demand for soybeans, which got a little boost from late-season rain.
On a related note, if projection holds out for this year, Brazil will surpass the U.S. as the world's top soybean producer.
"The [price] story changes a bit with wheat," which has given up a lot of land for corn and soybeans, despite an increase in the use of wheat for feed.
Cotton, too, has given up a lot of land, and that's unlikely to change with cotton prices depressed largely because of the large reserve of cotton.
"Until [China's] cotton market moves, it's going to be hard for cotton to gain upside traction," Hart said.
The drought and the high-prices it led to have caused a drop in biofuel demand, which until recently was steadily climbing.
Hart said that he doesn't expect much growth, if any, in the ethanol industry, at least over the next few years.
Drought, Feed Costs Influence Livestock Markets
Drought and high feed costs could continue to restrict livestock markets in 2013 if conditions do not improve, according to Dr. David Anderson, professor and economist in Livestock and Food Products Marketing with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. "Underlying everything we talk about in terms of livestock markets, everything starts with where we are with drought and pasture conditions," Anderson said. "Where we go in terms of costs, particularly, will be based on what happens with the drought in the coming year."
Corn prices reached up to $8 per bushel last year due to the drought. Higher feed costs led to increased production costs for cattle, pork and poultry farmers, resulting in increased retail prices to consumers.
However, Anderson projects that as more acres of corn are planted in 2013, lower prices and decent yields may bring the market back into equilibrium, provided the drought subsides.
Anderson also noted that meat prices in 2013 largely will hinge on demand. Per capita consumption of all meat in the U.S. has declined in the past five years, reflecting higher retail prices and a weak domestic economy.
"The key for how high those market prices can go, how much those prices recover to pay for record-high feed costs we can get, is really going to hinge on what happens to demand for those meat products in the overall economy," he said.
While per-capita consumption of beef, pork and poultry are down, Americans still enjoy eating meat. Other factors like a growing population, increased exports and decreased production have affected the per-capita measurement.
"As we see reports over the next couple of years about declining meat consumption, it doesn't have anything to do with people not liking meat," Anderson noted. "It's that we're producing less, and we have booming export markets."
Export markets will continue to be a strong outlet for livestock producers in 2013. American farmers and ranchers stand at the ready to fill increased demand from around the world as the global economy improves and dietary preferences continue to shift to include more meat.
Women Celebrate Outstanding Year
Through involvement in the Farm Bureau Women's Leadership Program and Farm Bureau as a whole, women are developing their strengths as agricultural professionals, according to Terry Gilbert, chair of the AFB Women's Leadership Committee.
Gilbert, a cattle and corn farmer from Kentucky, highlighted program successes during the annual business meeting.
"The program had an outstanding year in 2012," said Gilbert. "Farm Bureau Women are developing and achieving personal and professional goals. They also are using training and knowledge to tell their stories to decision makers, lawmakers, teachers, students and consumers," she said.
Gilbert challenged women in Farm Bureau to strive to improve their skills and find more opportunities to tell agriculture's story.
Sue Billiot of Arkansas, Marieta Hauser of Kansas, Vicki Malloy of Washington state and Debbi Tanner of Connecticut were nominated for election to two-year terms on the committee.
Gilbert was nominated for re-election as chair of the committee and Sherry Saylor of Arizona was nominated for re-election as vice chair.
Coming up in February, the committee and Farm Bureaus around the nation will hold consumer outreach events during Food Check-Out Week while also supporting Ronald McDonald Houses and other charities with food and monetary donations.
In April the biennial National Women's Leadership Conference coordinated by the committee will be held in Las Vegas.
Gilbert noted that the conference, with the theme "Engaged, Empowered, Strong" is open to all Farm Bureau women and will provide numerous opportunities for professional development.
Further, the committee annually sponsors the Women's Communications Boot Camp, an intensive training seminar held each July that is open to all Farm Bureau women.
Hunnicutt Elected YF&R Committee Chair
Members of the American Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee elected Zach Hunnicutt from Aurora, NE, as the committee's chairman for 2013.
He will take over as chairman in February, at the end of the committee's leadership conference, and serve for one year. He will also serve a one-year term on the AFBF board of directors.
Zach and his wife Anna farm outside of Giltner, raising irrigated corn, popcorn and soybeans.
Hunnicutt attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he earned a degree in agricultural economics. He and Anna have two children, Everett and Adeline.
Both Hunnicutts are very active in social media, working to tell agriculture's story and helping bridge the gap between consumers and farmers and ranchers. Hunnicutt currently serves as treasurer for the Ag Chat Foundation.
With a strong presence on Facebook, Instagram (zjhunn) and Twitter (@zjhunn), he is well-versed in the opportunities social media offers for starting a conversation with consumers nationwide.
As YF&R chair, Hunnicutt said he intends to continue to build on young farmers' efforts to connect with people outside of agriculture.
"With social media, I can reach out to people from the seat of my tractor," Hunnicutt said. "It's very effective."
Hunnicutt would also like to help younger growers ramp up their involvement in the policy development process in their counties and states.
"Whether they're just getting started or have long been a part of the policy development process, I'd encourage everyone to get more active, from the early stages of shaping policy to implementation," said Hunnicutt.
Getting state YF&R committees to collaborate more is another goal of Hunnicutt's.
"The committees should be a great resource for one another. We should be tapping into each other's strengths and learning from each other's successes," he said.
The YF&R program includes men and women between the ages of 18-35. The program's goals are to help younger Farm Bureau members learn more about agriculture, network with other farmers and become future leaders in agriculture and Farm Bureau.
Ag Social Media
A quartet of agricultural social media "rock stars" offered tips and encouragement to farmers and ranchers at a strategic engagement conference.
"Social media allows us to be part of the conversation," said Ryan Goodman, a cattle rancher from Arkansas who created the AgricultureProud.com
blog and is a guest contributor to CNN's Eatocracy blog.
"Consumers are already talking about what we're doing on the farm and ranch. Through social media we can have direct access to people with questions," Goodman said.
Zach Hunnicutt, a Nebraska farmer who was recently elected chairman of AFBF's national Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee, explained that he is able to advocate for agriculture by "giving a tour of my farm every day using Facebook and Instagram."
"Be positive all the time, and be passionate when advocating for agriculture on social media," advised Hunnicutt. "It draws people in," he said.
Setting up a business page on Facebook for your farm is a strategy Janice Person of Monsanto recommends.
Having a business page means the farm can be found on Internet search engines. And it addresses privacy concerns many people have - producers can share family photos and stories only on their personal page, for example.
"Interacting on Facebook with people in your community, at church and with college friends is a great way to get started," Person said.
From there, interest in a farmer's Facebook page often grows dramatically in concentric circles, Person has found. A Colorful Adventure is her personal blog.
"Be consistent with social media and you will build community," said Katie Pinke, author of the Pinke Post blog. "Especially if you're just starting out, concentrate on doing just one or two things well," she added.
Pinke, who started her blog several years ago as a "lonely pregnant woman on the prairie trying to find friends," offered encouragement to those in agriculture who may be hesitant to get started in social media.
"What you do does not necessarily have to be fancy or flashy," she said.
All of the panelists have found that engaging in conversations on social media about non-farming subjects at least part of the time helps increase outreach.
Cooking, recipes, kids, sports, music, travel and photography are among the topics they have successfully used for this.
The session was moderated by Melissa Burniston of Tennessee Farm Bureau.
Book of the Year
The American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture presented its sixth annual "Book of the Year" award to Cat Urbigkit for "The Guardian Team: On the Job with Rena and Roo."
The book introduces young readers to Rena and Roo, a dog and burro team at work on a sheep ranch in Wyoming. Urbigkit included dynamic real-life photographs in the book.
Urbigkit is an award-winning writer and photographer who lives on a Wyoming sheep ranch. She writes for several media outlets and blogs, and honed her writing skills as a newspaper reporter for more than a decade.
A firm believer in using the written word to educate the public about agriculture, Urbigkit has channeled her enthusiasm for farming into reaching school-aged children in her entertaining and educational book.
"Living on a working ranch, I see beautiful things every day," said Urbigkit. "I enjoyed watching the relationship grow between the burro, the pup and the lambs, as these young animals got to know each other, and as they matured together. It was a joy to watch, and it is a joy to share their story. It's a true story, of a life in agriculture."
The Book of the Year award springs from the Foundation's effort to identify "accurate ag books," a collection of more than 400 books for children, teenagers and adults that accurately cover agricultural topics.
Book of the Year selections are educational, reflect farmers' and ranchers' love for the land and what they do, create positive public perceptions about agriculture, inspire readers to learn more and touch their readers' lives as well as tell the farmer's story. The Accurate Ag Books database is available at: http://www.agfoundation.org/.
The Foundation has created an educator's guide and the Sheep Ag Mag publication as companion pieces to The Guardian Team: On the Job with Rena and Roo, which takes elementary students through various learning activities.
In honor of Urbigkit's recognition and the host city of the American Farm Bureau Federation's 2013 Annual Meeting, the book's publisher, Boyds Mills Press, has donated 120 copies of The Guardian Team: On the Job with Rena and Roo to Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.
Young Farmers, Ranchers Win Big
Winners of the Young Farmers & Ranchers Achievement Award, Discussion Meet and Excellence in Agriculture competitions were announced.
Young farmers and ranchers from around the country competed for the awards by demonstrating knowledge of and achievement in agriculture, as well as commitment to promoting the agriculture industry.
Ryan and Misty Bivens of Kentucky won the Achievement Award. They are the winners of either a 2013 Chevrolet Silverado or 2013 GMC Sierra, courtesy of GM. The Bivens will also receive paid registration to attend the 2013 AFBF YF&R Leadership Conference in Phoenix, AR, in February.
Runners-up in the Achievement Award contest are Michael Springer of Kansas, Dan and Mikki Hosman of Arkansas, and John and Alicia Boelts of Arizona. The runners-up will receive a Case IH Farmall 65A, courtesy of Case IH, and $3,000 in cash and STIHL merchandise, courtesy of STIHL.
The Achievement Award recognizes young farmers and ranchers who have excelled in their farming or ranching operations and exhibited superior leadership abilities. Participants are evaluated on a combination of their agricultural operation's growth and financial progress, Farm Bureau leadership and leadership outside of Farm Bureau.
Dillon Kjerstad of Arizona won the Discussion Meet. He will have his choice of either a 2013 Chevrolet Silverado or a 2013 GMC Sierra, courtesy of GM, plus free registration to the 2013 AFBF YF&R Leadership Conference.
The three runners-up in the Discussion Meet are Ann Larson of Illinois, Stacy Vincent of Kentucky and Allison Honea of South Carolina.
Each runner-up will receive a Case IH Farmall 55A, courtesy of Case IH, and $3,000 in cash and STIHL merchandise, courtesy of STIHL.
The Discussion Meet simulates a committee meeting in which active discussion and participation are expected. Participants are evaluated on their ability to exchange ideas and information on a predetermined topic.
Dana Allen Fisher of Virginia won the Excellence in Agriculture Award. He will receive his choice of either a 2013 Chevrolet Silverado or 2013 GMC Sierra, courtesy of GM, plus free registration to the 2013 AFBF YF&R Leadership Conference.
The three runners-up in the Excellence in Agriculture competition are Kelby and Kathie Iverson of Utah, David and Meghan Corvin of Tennessee, and Jarrod and Sarah Bowser of Kansas. Each runner-up will receive a Case IH Farmall 45A, courtesy of Case IH, and $3,000 in cash and STIHL merchandise, courtesy of STIHL.
The Excellence in Agriculture Award recognizes young farmers and ranchers who do not derive the majority of their income from an agricultural operation, but who actively contribute and grow through their involvement in agriculture, their leadership ability and participation in Farm Bureau and other organizations.
Retired Astronaut Inspires Members
Retired astronaut Mark Kelly delivered an inspirational keynote address at the Monday general session.
Kelly sprinkled his uplifting and sometimes humorous remarks with anecdotes about his exceptional career and life with his wife Gabrielle Giffords, the former member of Congress who survived an assassination attempt in January 2011.
Growing up in New Jersey as the child of two police officers set the stage for the philosophy that has guided the down-to-earth Kelly since boyhood: "Have a goal, a plan and then work hard."
He modestly described himself as "an underachiever who had to overcome a lack of natural aptitude" at many of the skills required to succeed as a Naval aviator, test pilot and, later, astronaut.
"How good you are at the beginning is not a good indicator of how good you can become," Kelly said.
He also shared the inspiration he finds in the strength of his wife, who continues to recover from gunshot wounds. She reminds him nearly every day to "Deny the existence of failure."
In his closing comments to the appreciative audience of Farm Bureau members, Kelly shared a few words from Giffords: "Be passionate, be courageous, be strong, be your best."
Kelly is one of America's most experienced pilots and has logged more than 6,000 flight hours aboard more than 50 different aircraft.
His experience includes 375 aircraft carrier landings, 39 combat missions, more than 50 days in space and service as commander of the space shuttle Endeavor's final mission.
In addition to his experience as an astronaut and Navy captain, Kelly is a prostate cancer survivor and best-selling author. "Moustronaut: A Partially True Story," is a children's book written by Kelly that is slated for release in October.