GFB YF&R conference focuses on ag advocacy
By Jennifer Whittaker, Georgia Farm Bureau
Young farmers and ranchers from across the state met on Jekyll Island July 14-17, for Georgia Farm Bureau’s YF&R Leadership Conference. After being canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference offered farmers and ag professionals between the ages of 18 and 35 a chance to network, tips to advocate for agriculture, and a better understanding of what Farm Bureau does for agriculture.
GFB President Tom McCall shared the experience he and his wife, Jane, had as members of the YF&R Program and encouraged the young farmers attending the conference to take home the things they learned at the event to serve their county Farm Bureaus.
“The Young Farmers and Ranchers Program means a lot to me and Jane. Y’all are the lifeblood of this organization,” McCall said. “I hope each and every one of you learned something you will take home and share. I’d like to see some of you serving on your county Farm Bureau boards and on the GFB Board and in the state legislature.”
GFB Leadership Development Coordinator Breanna Coursey Berry encouraged attendees to share what they learned at the event with their county Farm Bureaus and to get involved with their local Farm Bureaus. Conference attendees were surveyed at the event to get input for future YF&R events. YF&R members who weren’t able to attend the conference are asked to take a quick survey at https://forms.gle/peJ2uUuqNceHbJ5k9 to give input on YF&R programs.
Advocating for Ag
South Dakota cattle rancher, Beef Daily blogger, and children's book author Amanda Radke encouraged farmers to engage with consumers - whether you're at the airport or at church - to tell the nonfarming public the positive things about how you're growing their food. Radke has spent the last 15 years pushing back against animal rights and environmental activists who have attacked livestock agriculture, but says she thinks farmers and ranchers can make better traction to dispel ag myths consumers hear by sharing on social media the positive stories of what they are doing daily on the farm to care for their animals.
“Don’t react defensively when consumers ask questions about something negative they’ve heard about farming,” Radke said. “For example, if you tell someone you’re a dairy farmer or raise beef cows and the consumer asks, ‘So you raise cows that produce methane that is destroying the ozone layer?’ – don’t respond by saying ‘You fart, too!’ Remember that we all only understand what we’re exposed to on a regular basis and most consumers don’t have a basic understanding of livestock production.”
Using Radke’s advice, a good response to this scenario might be to answer, “Did you know that animal agriculture contributes less than 3% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions? Research at Oxford University and the University of California, Davis has shown as long as U.S. dairy and cattle producers have total constant herd numbers or even total decreasing herd numbers, we are not adding additional methane to the atmosphere. The United States reached peak beef cattle numbers in the 1970s and dairy cattle numbers in the 1950s and has reduced its number of animals every decade since, resulting in 50 million fewer cattle in total. U.S. farmers have better animal production and care practices today that allow us to produce more beef and milk to feed our country with fewer cattle.”
Radke shared how talking to a Wall Street stockbroker in 2012 at an airport led to him contacting her a few weeks later to get a rancher’s perspective on lean finely textured beef when ABC News ran its “pink slime” story. Her NYC friend contacted her again last year during the COVID-19 pandemic when beef was hard to find to learn how he could buy beef straight from a cattle producer.
Nelson Powell, a North Carolina hog farmer and relations manager with Rabobank, encouraged farmers to look at everyday interactions with their nonfarming friends, neighbors and family members as an opportunity to share what, how and why farmers do the things they do to raise their livestock and grow their crops.
“We’ve got to stop thinking it’s someone else’s responsibility to advocate for agriculture. It’s not always fun, but it’s beneficial to us as farmers,” Powell said.
To increase the chances that people will ask him questions about farming, Powell has placed a hog sticker that says NC Farmer on the back of his RV and wears a pig lapel pin.
“I want people to ask me about it,” he said.
When talking with people who have an opposing view of agriculture, Powell encourages farmers to resist the temptation to berate their beliefs because it will alienate them and keep them from hearing what you have to say about farming.
“You’ve got to realize that you are both on the same level playground, like a balanced seesaw,” Powell said. “If you berate someone’s value’s or elevate your beliefs, it lowers them like a seesaw to the point that you are diagonally opposite each other.”
Powell also encourages farmers to remember that what you think you're saying may not be what the other person will hear. Powell shared an entertaining story of traveling in Australia with a co-worker.
Their Uber driver asked them what brought them to Australia. The co-worker said they were there with Rabobank, but the driver heard, “We’re here to rob a bank,” and stopped the car to leave them.
Agriculture, like all jobs, uses a lot of words that only make sense to farmers. Think about phrases you use to describe what you do around the farm and if there’s a better way to explain it to a consumer.
Current ag issues
During the second half of the opening session, a panel of Georgia farmers and ag business representatives shared their thoughts on today's current ag environment and trends they're seeing. Brian Lance of Godfrey's Feed, Dusty Engel with Lasseter Equipment, Caroline Lewallen, a cattle producer, and Sarah Dyer, Dade Co. UGA Extension Agent, and cattle producer, participated in the panel discussion.
Each was asked to identify one of the greatest challenges facing agriculture right now.
Engel said labor shortages. Lewallen said the current polarizing political climate and the need for farmers to have a relationship with the lawmakers who set policy for agriculture. Lance said farmers having access to capital – whether it’s human capital (labor) to run the farm, political capital to influence lawmakers, or land capital to farm. Dyer said it’s important that farmers find their niche to differentiate their farm product with consumers.
Georgia Farm Bureau Chief Administrative Officer/Corporate Secretary Jon Huffmaster and Chief Financial Officer/Corporate Treasurer David Jolley gave the conference attendees a crash course in GFB 101.
Huffmaster explained that the main purpose of Farm Bureau is to advocate for Georgia farmers regarding legislative issues on the state & national level. He shared that landowners benefit from GFB's work to secure passage of the Conservation Use Value Assessment (CUVA) and the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) card. He encouraged all farmers and those with an interest in agriculture to support the organization's future legislative efforts by joining Farm Bureau.
Jolley discussed the history of the Georgia Farm Bureau Insurance Company, current operations and plans for ensuring the company has a stable financial outlook. He explained that the organization will continue to develop options to drive membership that complements our insurance products for future growth.
GFB is working to convince farmers and members of Georgia’s ag community who aren’t Farm Bureau members to join GFB to support Georgia agriculture along with consumers who appreciate farmers and want to support them.
GFB Membership Acquisition Manager Slayten Carter encouraged the YF&R group to actively recruit their friends and family to join Farm Bureau's efforts in working for Georgia agriculture.
Carter discussed GFB’s new We Are All Farm Bureau membership campaign.
“We’re trying to grow the number of our members who love agriculture and the work we do for farmers but don’t have insurance with us,” Carter said. “We’re marketing the concept of joining Georgia Farm Bureau because you love Georgia and because you love to eat. We hope you will go out there and find people in your community to join. Give a Farm Bureau membership as presents for a birthday or Christmas gift so people can experience the wonderful member benefits we offer.”
Ag policy updates
Members of Georgia Farm Bureau 's Public Policy team shared how they are advocating on behalf of Georgia agriculture at the state and federal level during a general session on July 16. Harold Earls, a former Airborne Ranger who served as Commander of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, shared life lessons he learned from serving at Arlington Cemetery and leading a team in climbing Mount Everest.
GFB National Policy Counsel Tripp Cofield discussed hot topics Congress and President Biden are focused on. He predicts that infrastructure will dominate the headlines in DC for the remainder of the summer and possibly into the fall. Currently, a $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure plan is being debated. The plan includes $312.8 billion for transportation infrastructure and a combined $266.2 billion for power, broadband, water & other projects. In the coming weeks, the conversation is likely to shift to a larger package proposed by the president and congressional Democrats with a price tag of $3.5 trillion. This proposal calls for partially offsetting this spending with corporate tax increases and estate tax changes, specifically to the stepped-up basis that determines how inherited assets are valued for tax purposes.
Stepped-up basis has allowed American farm families to pass their operations to their children and grandchildren without forcing them to sell land and/or other assets to cover the tax bill. Under stepped-up basis, a farmer pays capital gains taxes only on a property’s increase in value since the time that land was inherited, instead of paying the full increase in value since it was purchased by a deceased relative. In addition, the tax on the new stepped-up value is deferred until property is sold by the surviving family member.
One of the reasons the step up in basis is so important to farmers and ranchers is the asset values in agriculture have appreciated significantly in recent years. As a result, when farmland is inherited, without a step up in basis, many farmers would face very significant capital gains taxes. For the American Farm Bureau Federation’s full Market Intel report on stepped-up basis, visit https://gfb.ag/AFBFstepupbasisanalysis.
GFB Governmental Affairs Specialist Jake Matthews delivered an overview of the 2021 Session of the Georgia General Assembly. Georgia legislators passed a $27.3 billion state budget that includes $40 million Rural Innovation Fund and $20 million for getting broadband into rural communities with an additional $10 million in future funds.
GFB State Affairs Coordinator Alex Bradford discussed ag issues Georgia legislators are expected to address during next year’s session including: allowing the sale of raw milk with food safety testing requirements; increasing truck weights to decrease freight traffic through Metro Atlanta; right-to-farm legislation to prevent frivolous nuisance lawsuits against livestock farms; and right-to-repair legislation so farmers can have reasonable repair capabilities for their equipment while protecting manufacturers’ proprietary technology.
Bradford explained that Georgia voters will vote on a ballot initiative in the November 2022 election to determine if family farms that have merged may have the same ad valorem tax exemption on farm equipment that they qualified for before merging. The need for passage of this amendment arose after a Southwest Georgia county denied ad valorem tax exemptions to a newly merged farm.
GFB Advocacy & Policy Development Coordinator Katie Duvall made the case for GFB members to support the organization’s legislative advocacy activities with some eye-opening Georgia voting facts: 1) 60% of Georgia’s 10.6 million population lives in Metro ATL. 2) The following counties had the highest number of registered voters: Fulton, Gwinnett, DeKalb, Cobb, Chatham & Clayton – all counties where voters have little understanding of agriculture and the challenges farmers face.
Duvall encouraged the young farmers to subscribe to GFB’s Legislative Reports, listen to the Growing On Podcast and participate in future I Farm. I Vote. Campaigns designed to educate both candidates and voters about ag issues.
If I Can…
Canadian farmer and motivational speaker Chris Koch, who was born without arms or legs, attributes growing up on a farm and his family for giving him his “I can do anything,” attitude for life. Koch encourages parents and farmers to give their children & employees room to learn how to do things on their own.
“Push yourself outside your comfort zone,” Koch said. “All those things you dream about doing - DO them.”
Koch says our minds and attitude are the biggest obstacles we have to overcome.
“My biggest struggles are when I let the six inches of space between my ears get in my way, not because I don’t have arms and legs,” Koch said. “We’re all battling something. Be grateful for the things you do have instead of focusing on the things you don’t.”
GFB Leadership Development Coordinator Breanna Coursey Berry encouraged attendees to share what they learned at the event with their county Farm Bureaus and to get involved with their local Farm Bureaus.