AFBF Convention focuses on Farm Bureau family
By Jennifer Whittaker, Georgia Farm Bureau
Georgia Farm Bureau was well-represented at the 104th American Farm Bureau Federation Convention held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jan. 6-11. GFB’s delegation of about 120-members and staff attended educational workshops, heard from inspirational speakers and had a chance to soak up the sun and culture of the U.S. territory.
During the opening session of the 104th AFBF Convention, Georgia Farm Bureau was recognized for receiving AFBF Awards of Excellence in all four program work areas of advocacy, engagement & outreach, leadership & business development and coalitions & partnerships.
“Georgia was well-represented at this AFBF Convention. We’re especially proud of the MycoLogic team from Kennesaw State University for winning the People’s Choice Award in the Agriculture Innovation Challenge. We’re proud of how Brian, Colt and Willie represented us in the Young Farmers and Ranchers events,” said GFB President Tom McCall. “We’re also excited about the memorandum of understanding AFBF signed with John Deere at the convention that gives farmers the ability to repair their farm equipment. This is something Georgia farmers have wanted for a long time and GFB worked with AFBF to achieve this.”
Duvall praises AFBF members’ advocacy efforts
Puerto Rico Farm Bureau President Hector Cordero-Toledo welcomed Farm Bureau members from across the country to San Juan. This is the first time the AFBF convention has been held in the U.S. territory.
AFBF President Zippy Duvall delivered his annual address at the opening session of the organization's 104th annual convention on Jan. 8. During his optimistic speech, Duvall discussed the organization’s successes in 2022, including grassroots advocacy efforts to send more than 38,000 messages to lawmakers and regulatory agencies.
“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,” Duvall said.
Duvall also shared the exciting announcement that AFBF had reached a memorandum of understanding with John Deere that gives farmers’ and ranchers’ the right to repair their farm equipment. The MOU is the culmination of several years of discussions between AFBF and John Deere.
Vilsack: USDA working to help farmers
While speaking to Farm Bureau members at the AFBF convention on Jan. 9, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack outlined steps the USDA is taking to help farmers meet current challenges they are facing.
“American farmers are an incredibly resilient group. When we think about the challenges you have faced in recent years from mega droughts, fires, terrific storms and hurricanes. You all have continued to produce although you’re still dealing with the challenges COVID presented with supply chain issues. You’re still producing despite the challenges Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine has presented to our fertilizer supply,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack acknowledged that although overall farm income has reached record highs the past two years, studies show that about half of U.S. farm households had negative incomes these same two years.
“Knowing that 50% of our farm families had negative [household] incomes in a time of record overall farm income suggests to me we need to do more to help our farmers,” Vilsack said.
He said the USDA has allocated $3 billion to fund 141 projects to reward farmers and agribusinesses implementing climate smart production practices; invested $1 billion in expanding existing local meat processing facilities or building new ones; and allocating funds for programs to help farmers to connect with local restaurants and schools to sale their crops directly.
Vilsack also referenced $500 million in funds the USDA allocated last fall to support increased production of fertilizer by U.S. companies to meet farmers’ needs for their 2023/24 crops.
“We think there’s an opportunity to send a strong message that we are self-reliant, and we are excited to decrease our reliance on those who do not agree with us,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack also discussed the importance of the 2023 farm bill.
“A farm bill isn’t just about farms, and it isn’t just about nutrition, and it isn’t just about conservation. It’s about preserving a fundamental aspect of our country, of being a food secure nation that empowers the rest of the nation to do all of what we do in America,” Vilsack said.
“The future of our country is directly connected to your future,” Vilsack told attendees.
After Vilsack’s speech, President Joe Biden addressed the AFBF convention via video message saying,
“American farmers feed our families and power our economy. That’s why our administration has invested $1 billion in meat processing facilities in the past year, $500 million to support domestic fertilizer production and funding to improve the roads and bridges in rural America and to expand internet access into rural communities. God bless you.”
AFBF members also heard from Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.
“Puerto Rico is emerging from past challenges and entering a new season of economic growth. Our farms and agribusinesses are key to our future sustainability,” Pierluisi said. “Our current ag production [of yams, vegetables, fruit and livestock] fills 15 percent of our consumption. Ninety percent of what Puerto Rico consumes comes from the U.S.”
Life Is Good CEO shares company’s story
A highlight of the closing session for Georgia Farm Bureau members at the AFBF annual convention was hearing from Bert Jacobs, co-founder of the Life is Good apparel company. Jacobs shared how he and his younger brother, John, started selling quirky t-shirts in 1994 and grew a $150 million lifestyle brand that promotes optimism. The early t-shirts featured a stick figure named Jake that John drew.
“A t-shirt is a communication device. It’s a way to tell others about your values and interests,” Jacobs said. “We started celebrating what people love to do and putting it on t-shirts.”
Gratitude, Jacobs said, is a superpower.
“We’re rational optimists. We recognize that life is not perfect but there is a lot of good if you look for it.”
Capitalism, he said, creates the opportunity for upward mobility.
“Businesses should not be demonized for the world’s problems,” Jacobs said. “Capitalism iis the most powerful tool in the world we have for solving problems.”
Nashville star Big Kenny has Farm Bureau background
Big Kenny Alphin entertained Georgia Farm Bureau members attending the AFBF Convention during a speech on Jan. 8 by sharing memories of growing up on his family’s farm in Culpeper, Virginia, and going to local Farm Bureau meetings with his family.
Alphin moved to Nashville in 1994 when he was 30 to try his hand at music and eventually became half of the Big & Rich duo with John Rich.
AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee Chairman Alisha Schwertner interviewed Alphin, who encouraged the audience by sharing that for the one producer who signed him, 50 turned him down.
“Faith is the eternal elixir that gives life to the impulse of thought. I’m going to keep on having faith. Why don’t we all keep on having faith?” Alphin said.
Big Kenny applauded farmers attending his speech saying, “It’s the farmers that put the feast on the table. It’s the farmers that feed the world.”
Farm dogs honored
Tough, a 14-year-old border collie belonging to Kansas Farm Bureau members Denny & Donna Ashcraft, is the 2023 Farm Bureau Dog of the Year. This amazing dog was paralyzed from the neck down for a week after being injured while working cattle seven years ago. Miraculously, through rehab, she has regained about 90% of her mobility.
Case, a Corgi owned by Louisiana Farm Bureau members Kelsi and Amanda Duhon, was named People’s Choice Pup in a social media contest with online voting as part of the overall competition. Case wins bragging rights, a year’s supply of Pro-Plan dog food and other Purina products. Case is featured in a children’s book, “Case and the Sugar Run,” which teaches children how sugar cane is grown.
The contest celebrates farm dogs that work alongside farmers and ranchers as they sustainably produce nutritious food for families and their pets across America. Rounding up livestock and chasing off predators are among the many tasks performed by farm dogs.
Nestlé Purina PetCare donated prizes for the contest. This included $5,000 in prize money, a trophy plate, a year’s supply of Pro-Plan dog food and other Purina products for Tough.
A panel of judges with expertise in the pet care industry, veterinary medicine and communications reviewed more than 100 nominations to select the 2023 Farm Dog of the Year. Judging criteria included the dog’s helpfulness to the farmer and his/her family, playfulness and their role in making life better on and off the farm. Farm Bureau members submitted written responses to questions, photos and video clips to nominate their dogs for Farm Dog of the Year.
Learn more and nominate your dog for the 2024 contest at https://www.fb.org/farmdog.
Georgians discuss farm mental health
During a AFBF convention workshop focused on mental health, panelist Dr. Anne Montgomery, assistant professor of community medicine at Mercer University School of Medicine, discussed the ways farmers cope with stress, such as exercising, talking to family and friends and spending time on hobbies. She said farmers’ coping mechanisms vary based on demographics and whether they’re a first generation or multigeneration farmer.
Montgomery was one of the principal investigators on a study Mercer conducted last year on farmers’ mental well-being. The Georgia Foundation for Agriculture partnered with Mercer on the study. To learn more, visit https://gfb.ag/FarmStress .
Also on the panel were Sumter County Farm Bureau President Matt Berry and his wife, Alicia, who shared how she supports Matt just by listening and taking very seriously her role as sounding board for things weighing on him, big and small. Matt provided excellent insight into the mental health and unspoken issues that farmers face.
This session shed light on emerging research about the top stressors for farmers and how they differ by roll, as well as data-backed strategies to aid in the coping of stress and anxiety.
If you have any questions about farmer mental health please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.