Contributing to policy development and sharing experiences are the most important actions farmers can take to advance the future of agriculture, according to the head of the country’s largest farm member organization.
“That storytelling is becoming more and more and more valuable and we have to make sure that we continue to do that,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said at the 2021 Illinois Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Chicago.
“I encourage all of you to get outside the fencerows ... and show (people who have never seen a farm) what agriculture is all about,” Duvall said.
“Getting our story told starts with you, and you’re the best person to tell that story.”
Farmers and ranchers sharing their perspectives also matters, Duvall said, to help retain trust from the American public.
A recent poll by AFBF found more than 87% said the profession they trusted the most was agriculture, Duvall said.
And the sharing of on-the-farm experiences should also extend to between farmers, Duvall said, noting how many struggle with mental health issues.
“We have farmers who are stressed to the teeth and they go through very, very difficult times,” Duvall said. “We have to get rid of the stigma that goes along with mental stress.”
Duvall himself learned that lesson after his wife passed away.
“It’s OK to say ‘I’m not OK’ and just to look to people who are willing to help you,” Duvall said.
Duvall also learned this year that “not everything is good ... it was difficult in farmland” and “we have issues on top of issues.”
The “biggest, biggest” limiting factor to American agriculture is labor, Duvall said. Other bottlenecks in the supply chain and the coronavirus pandemic are also weighing on operations.
In addition to addressing those issues, AFBF in 2022 will focus on developing the new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which Duvall said “we’d hope we’d never have to face again.”
AFBF will continue work to bring fairness to the livestock market and ensure that funds allocated in the bipartisan infrastructure law for broadband expansion actually go to rural communities, Duvall said.
He added that AFBF will also improve its relationship with the Biden administration, including USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.
“Whether you like the politics or not, we’re bipartisan,” Duvall said. “We have built relationships to make things happen and to keep bad things from being so bad.”
And ultimately, Duvall said he has hope the agriculture industry will continue to evolve.
“The farmers and ranchers of this country have overcome all things that nature throws at them,” Duvall said. “I have hope for the Farm Bureau, I have hope for our country, and I have hope for the future of our industry because we are Americans, we are farmers and ranchers of the strongest country on Earth because of you.”