(AFBF/Puerto Rico/Jan. 8, 2023) — American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Zippy Duvall Opened 2023 AFBF Convention General Session this morning with an inspiring speech highlighting some of the great work the Farm Bureau family is doing great work throughout the country.
Thank you! Good morning! Welcome to San Juan! I hope you’re having a good time enjoying the beauty that God put here.
Did anyone notice the Zipline outside? Our staff said that Zippy riding a Zipline onto the stage would be funny. I’d rather get between a momma cow and her calf than test out the weight limit on that thing!
I’m thrilled to be with you today. Before I get started, I’d like to thank my family for being here, too. Please stand up and give them a wave! Your love continues to give me strength in all that I do. And, I’m so delighted to have you here with me today.
I’ve enjoyed traveling to Farm Bureau events all across the country with my wife, Jennifer, and seeing how she has immersed herself in all things Farm Bureau. I’m proud she’s now a Women’s Boot Camp graduate. Way to go, Jennifer!
This weekend is also my grandson, Tripp’s, birthday! Happy birthday, Tripp! Don’t worry, we’re not going to sing to you today.
You all are Mí Familia. The Farm Bureau family is doing great work throughout the country, and I am honored to highlight some of that great work today.
After the hurricane season, especially here and in Florida, many people have suffered, some lost everything. But, tough times bring us together.
Just five years ago, Hurricane Maria devastated this island. Eighty percent of the crops were destroyed. Buildings were flattened. As aid came in, there was a problem. Federal aid was mainly going to larger farms. We stepped up to lend a hand and advocate for our family here, and aid started flowing to all farms – large and small.
Across the island, farmers saw what Farm Bureau could do. They saw the value that Farm Bureau brings. Since then, Puerto Rico Farm Bureau membership has more than doubled.Everyone, help me congratulate Puerto Rico Farm Bureau and thank them for hosting us!
Hard times show us who our true friends are, who we can count on, and Mí Familia pulls together in hard times. There are hundreds, probably thousands of examples of members helping each other. God gives us all challenges, and He puts people in our lives to help us not only weather the storm, but to thrive in even bigger and better ways.
Thriving didn’t seem possible for Danny Miller after a tornado destroyed much of his farm in Kentucky. It left Danny wondering where to turn. Until Farm Bureau showed up. See for yourself.
Danny told me there is still a long way to go to get back to normal, but he’s grateful that Farm Bureau was there. That’s what our state Farm Bureaus do all across the country. And it changes lives.
Another way we stand with you is by equipping you with skills to be the best advocates in the country. Our leadership development programs are the best of the best and have helped empower so many rock stars in agriculture.
In Arizona, Jon Dinsmore – The Greenscreen Farmer – is connecting with consumers through social media after coming through our leadership programs. Today, he has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. Jon combined his love for farming with his passion for photography to share more about agriculture online.
Then a surprising thing happened. He started receiving messages from around the world. That’s when he knew it was a bridge-building opportunity – and he’s taken it to the next level. His videos with the hashtag “Green Screen Farmer” have been viewed over 90 million times.
We have a mighty force of Farm Bureau advocates. When we combine these advocates with our team of expert lobbyists, we are a force to be reckoned with. Last year, you all sent over 38,000 messages to lawmakers and regulators. That averages more than 100 messages each and every day.
For example, when the SEC wanted to require all companies to report greenhouse gas emissions in their supply chains, we knew it would have big effects on our farms. That rule could have meant more red tape and confusing paperwork.
We activated our network of advocates. In just a few weeks, you generated nearly 5,000 messages to the SEC, and we got their attention. I have spoken to Chair Gensler, and he gets it. Still, we’ll keep a watchful eye as they rework that rule.
When the threat loomed of increased taxes through changes to stepped-up basis, we launched into action again. You sent over 7,000 messages to Congress sharing how those changes could devastate family farms.
And when we issued our action alert on WOTUS during this speech last year – you all stood up and made your voices heard. In the first 36 hours, our members sent over 3,800 messages to the EPA. One of the people who sent a message was Eric Kelsey from Illinois.
In 2014, Eric bought farmland right next to the farm his great-grandfather bought generations earlier. He hoped to grow more corn, soybeans and wheat there and build a home for his family. In 2018, Eric wanted to make some improvements on his land. The federal government bounced him back and forth between agencies and red tape for two years!
Then Eric called a supervisor he knew in one of the agencies who said, “Oh, you don’t need a permit for that.” Two people. Same office. Two different answers. If our government can’t even understand the regulations, how can they expect the American people to understand them? Right? We should not have to hire a team of lawyers to tell us how we farm our land.
I appreciate Eric telling his story.
We took our seat at the table. We hosted roundtables with government agencies. You submitted comments explaining why we needed a rule that was clear, fair and easy to understand. The EPA seems to have ignored much of what we said.
Now, to give credit where it’s due, Administrator Regan did attempt to clarify the rules around prior converted cropland, ponds and ditches. But overall, the rule muddies the water. It creates confusion that will require more paperwork, more delays, and yes, more lawyers. We’re not done yet. We will do everything we can do to arrive at a commonsense rule.
Some of you may have met my daughter Zellie. She’s sharp as a tack and you know she grew up on our farm. She recently worked on policy for a congresswoman. Zellie called me one night after a trip back to the congresswoman’s district. She shared with me how much she learned about agriculture when the state Farm Bureau invited several congressional staff out for a tour.
Now, I remind you, she grew up on our farm. I thought about what she said. Just because she grew up on a farm didn’t mean she understood all of agriculture. Heck, I’ve traveled all around this country and seen so much, and I’m still learning about agriculture! That’s why it’s so important we stay engaged.
Invite members of Congress, and their staff, out to your farm. Explain how the farm bill has helped sustain your farm so you continue to produce food for our country. Do you realize that81 members of Congress are brand new? We must engage with them and help them understand the issues we face. That’s how we build relationships that will lead us to success in Congress.
One of the recent successes we’ve had is passage of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act. We worked with members on both sides of the aisle and the President, to get this bill across the finish line. I hope it will start to fix problems that we’ve seen in ocean shipping the last couple years. And maybe it might also help relieve some other price increases we’re experiencing.
We also know that action from the government isn’t always the best option. Our members asked the American Farm Bureau to work with farm equipment manufacturers. They asked us to find a path forward so we can repair our own equipment. Margins on the farm are tight, that’s why we fix things ourselves and go to local mechanics for help. I know many of you are forced to travel for hours to the nearest equipment dealer. That’s a challenge when something breaks in the middle of planting, harvest or any time-sensitive job.
Well, I’m pleased to share that immediately after this general session, I’ll be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with John Deere. It will ensure farmers everywhere are able to repair our own equipment. This will enable you and your independent mechanics to identify and fix problems. You will have access to the diagnostic tools and information you need. And you’ll get it at a fair and reasonable price.
This is just the beginning of a process. We will meet regularly with John Deere to discuss solutions to the challenges farmers are facing in repairing their equipment. It has been a long journey to get here. I couldn’t be more proud of the team that negotiated the agreement. And I hope John Deere is the first of many farm equipment companies we can come to an agreement with.
First, the farm bill. The farm bill is critical to American agriculture. We know how important farm bill programs are to all of you. That’s why we started preparing a year and a half ago for the 2023 farm bill discussion. We invited every state and Puerto Rico to join our Farm Bill Working Group. They have identified our priorities and gaps in our policy book that we need the delegates to fill this week.
To hit just the highlights, we must protect and expand crop insurance. We need to ensure conservation programs remain voluntary and science-based. And we must keep farm policy unified with nutrition policy. When ag and hunger advocates lock arms, we have our best chance of success, which we must never take for granted.
There’s also a lot of discussion about advancing climate-smart farming practices as part of the farm bill renewal. We are at the table for that discussion through our leadership in the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance. It is important to ensure that any additional resources go to voluntary, market-based programs.
The other challenge will be engaging with members of Congress who have never worked on a farm bill. In addition to the new members, 179 others weren’t in Congress during the 2018 farm bill debate. That makes 260 who may not understand the importance of farm bill programs. Nearly half of Congress! We have to put in the extra work to show them why we need to pass the farm bill this year.
Issue number two, labor. It’s a political lightning rod. If we took the politics out of it and put the stakeholders in one room, I bet we’d find a solution by the end of the day. We need our legislators to set aside the political games and come to the table ready to find a solution.
The lack of workers is holding backagriculture. It’s holding back American businesses. It’s holding back our rural communities. It is past time we get this done.
The third issue, sustainability. We’ve had some awesome success ensuring new programs are in line with our policies. The recommendations we helped develop through the Food and Ag Climate Alliance have driven action in Washington. Just a few weeks ago, Congress passed the SUSTAINS Act and a revised Growing Climate Solutions Act. These bills give us the tools to help implement voluntary, market-driven programs on our farms.
Farmers are innovators. We’re always looking for ways to do better by our land. Just like I don’t farm the same way my grandfather did, my grandchildren won’t farm the same way I do. At the last convention, I challenged you to share your sustainability stories. And the Farm Bureau Family answered that challenge in a big way. We’re taking back the narrative. We’re demonstrating our commitment, to our soil, to our water and to the air we all breathe.
In upstate New York, the Wagners’ farm is made up of about eleven hundred acres where they also milk dairy cows.In 2009, Peter and his wife, Marlene, diversified by adding a methane digester. Since then, they’ve upgraded it allowing them to process food waste—even from big companies like Coke and Pepsi. We gathered stories like theirs and created an interactive map to show how farmers and ranchers in every state and Puerto Rico are working to be more sustainable. Let’s take a look.
This is just one of the countless examples from farmers and ranchers like you. Visit fb.org/sustainability to see all the stories we’ve collected. Sustainability isn’t new to farmers. It’s not just a buzzword to us. It’s just what we do.
But the public doesn’t know that. They are more interested than ever before. Americans just aren’t connected to the farm like they used to be. But here’s the cool thing: The American people trust you and me as farmers. Surveys show: They trust us more than the federal government and more than environmental groups.
They trust you to make the right decisions on your farm. You should be very proud of that. It is time for the government to trust you to do the right thing, too. We need to keep coming to the table, building on that public trust and sharing our story with everyone from Washington lawmakers to our neighbors down the road.
That’s just what our Foundation for Agriculture is doing. It works hard to bridge the gap with people who may have never seen a farm … or a farm animal. We started a publishing company to show kids how food is actually grown. One of our books, “I LOVE Strawberries,” even won a Good Housekeeping Award! We created teaching resources for schools. We launched farm-focused virtual games that have been played by kids over 1 million times.
Another great program is our On the Farm STEM. It brings teachers from urban and suburban schools to meet farmers and ranchers on the farm. These teachers are amazed by the connection between science lessons in their classrooms and the science we use every day. Don’t take my word for it – let’s hear straight from one of those teachers.
That’s why we engage! I’ve shared a lot of different stories with you today. Why? Because when you put together all the things the Farm Bureau Family is doing, it is so powerful. Neighbors helping neighbors. The work we do at all levels of government. Our leadership training. Advocacy each and every day. Sharing your stories. Giving back to our communities.
All of it makes me proud to be a Farm Bureau member. And it should make you proud too. We have each other’s backs when the going gets tough, when our neighbors need a helping hand. Never forget what a difference you can make in someone’s day, in someone’s life, simply by showing up.
That’s what farmers do. We show up. And that’s what the Farm Bureau family does. No one can go it alone. I can’t do it all. And neither can you. But together, together we are strong, and we are a force for good all across our country.
During this morning’s Sunrise Service, I said a quiet prayer for us all, to love and support each other more than ever before. Jesus tells us in John 15:12: “Love each other as I have loved you.”
As we gather here today, I feel the strength of our family. I see the love of farming that binds us together. Whether it’s tough times or good times, we stand together with one, united voice. I am so proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you and I am humbled to serve as president of this great organization. What an honor, on both counts.
Now let’s buckle-up for a big year in 2023. And let’s make it an awesome year. Thank you. God bless you all and God bless the American farmer!
American Farm Bureau Federation