Wins and challenges highlighted at 94th Annual AFBF 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 who gathered in Nashville for AFBF’s 94th Annual Meeting. “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.”

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