Farm Bureau President Duvall Talks Ag Issues

The 98th American Farm Bureau annual convention is going on this week in Phoenix, Arizona. Once a year, Farm Bureau members come together in one location to learn and talk about the future of agriculture. Farm Bureau voting delegates will also debate policy and put together the Farm Bureau policy platform on important Ag issues for the coming year.

Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall talks Ag issues

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall addresses reporters during a press conference at the 98th Farm Bureau annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona. (photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

Farm Bureau President and Georgia farmer Zippy Duvall spoke to reporters on Sunday during a press conference in Phoenix, tackling several issues important to agriculture. One of the first questions dealt with the lengthy search for the next Secretary of Agriculture. Duvall wanted the candidate selected a little quicker, although he seems encouraged by the fact that the Trump team has interviewed a good number of excellent candidates. What happens if the President-elect would happen to pick someone who doesn’t have an extensive Ag background?

“At this point, I’m not worried,” Duvall said, “I have full faith in the new president picking the right person. He’s looked at many different people, a lot more than we expected him to look at. We just think he’s doing a thorough review.”

 

 

As far as the reason it’s taken so long? Duvall said he honestly isn’t sure and anything he would add is speculation. “I’m honestly not sure whether he’s had people who just weren’t interested,” Duvall said, “or whether he’s had so many good candidates he can’t really pick which one he wants.”

 

 

 

One of Trump’s main talking points in the campaign was building a wall along the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico to help control illegal immigration. A good number of those same immigrants are vital to agriculture getting its work done every year. Immigration will be one of the biggest ag issues the Farm Bureau will keep an eye on in 2017. Duvall is hoping some kind of compromise on immigration can be reached so agriculture isn’t short on labor, especially at harvest time.

 

“If you look at the increase in H2A applications over the last few years,” Duvall said, “we’ve had a tremendous increase in that area. The demand for workers is there and we also know that the American people aren’t going to do that work, otherwise, they already would have started.”

 

 

 

He adds, “We want to give them an opportunity to stay here and work. It comes down to a moral and a safety issue. Their families are here and we have to do the right thing.”

 

 

 

Trade will be another of the biggest ag issues to keep an eye on this year. One of the biggest concerns agriculture has with the incoming president is his stance against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and trade agreements in general. Duvall says after talking with the Trump team, the President-elect has a better understanding of how important trade is to agriculture.

 

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to sit down with the Trump team and talk about the workings of a trade treaty that is friendly to agriculture,” Duvall said. “My discussions with the Trump team before the election went like this: ‘we’re concerned about Mr. Trump’s opinion on trade.’ That’s what we told them. He seems to be negative on trade  and agriculture is very dependent on it for up to 30% of our income.”

 

 

 

“This won’t be the first time a new president appeared to put us (Ag) at risk,” Duvall added. “Yes, we are nervous about that (trade wars). We do want America to stand up and have a backbone, but you have to be really careful about how you do that because you could destroy our industry if you don’t do it right.”

 

He added, “We’re there at the table trying to have those conversations.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glessing re-elected Minnesota Farm Bureau Vice President

Minnesota Farm Bureau County voting delegates at the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation’s (MFBF) 98th Annual Meeting re-elected Dan Glessing to a two-year term as Vice-President of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation. The election was held November 18 during the delegate session in Bloomington.

 Glessing and his wife, Seena, farm in partnership with his father. They have dairy cattle and grow alfalfa, corn and soybeans. Dan and Seena have three sons and one daughter.

Minnesota Farm Bureau Vice President

Dan Glessing was re-elected to a two-year term as Vice President of the Minnesota farm Bureau Federation at this year’s 98th annual meeting in Bloomington. (photo from fbmn.org)

 “I am honored and humbled to serve as vice president,” said MFBF Vice President Dan Glessing. “One of Farm Bureau’s greatest strengths is our grassroots structure and policy development process which is well respected amongst our elected and appointed officials. We will continue to strengthen our relationships with officials. The goal is to have them come to us when they have a question about agriculture. Our Young Farmers & Ranchers and Promotion & Education programs will continue to engage consumers in conversations to increase the understanding of today’s farming.”Bob Roelofs of Garden City in Blue Earth County, representing District II, was re-elected. Fran Miron from Hugo in Washington-Ramsey County, representing District V, was also re-elected. Both will serve two-year terms.

 Promotion & Education Committee chair Debra Durheim from Long Prairie in Todd County was elected to a one-year term on the Board of Directors. Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee chair Pam Uhlenkamp from Green Isle in Sibley County was also elected to the Farm Bureau Board of Directors on a one-year term.

 Minnesota Farm Bureau is the largest general farm organization in the state focusing on Farmers • Families • Food. More than 30,000 Farm Bureau family members. help to determine policy through a grassroots process involving the Farm Bureau members in 78 county and regional Farm Bureau units in a formal, democratic process. This process helps members make their views heard to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public. Programs for Young Farmers & Ranchers help members develop leadership abilities and improve farm management. Promotion & Education committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for farm children. For more information, contact your county Farm Bureau office.

For more information on the Minnesota Farm Bureau log onto www.fbmn.org.

2nd Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm a success

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm a big hit!

The second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm was a big success at the Jary and Celene Holst dairy farm near Kellogg. (Photo by Chad Smith)

The second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm took place on the Jary and Celene Holst dairy farm near Kellogg last Friday night.  A warm summer evening saw a great turnout and a wide variety of activities for people of all ages to take part in.

The goal was a simple one:  to introduce the non-farm public to the people behind the food they eat and to show them what goes into producing that food.  Displays of old and new farm equipment lined the farmyard, as well as history displays, a petting zoo, a lunch stand, kids activities, and much more that made for a busy family night on the farm.

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm a big hit with children

People of all ages had a chance to get up close and personal at Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm at the Jary and Celene Holst farm near Kellogg on a beautiful Friday evening. (photo by Chad Smith)

“This is the second year of doing this event,” said Katie Brown, a member of the group putting on the event.  “Last year, many of us put together the first event last year at Klein’s Cow Palace near Lake City.  This year, the Holst family graciously offered to host the event out here, so it’s a new event for our county but we’re hoping to make it a tradition.”

Brown described the turnout on Friday night as “amazing.”  Events like this just don’t happen without a large number of people who are passionate about agriculture and want to tell its story to people who don’t have much of a connection to the farm.

“We want to make sure we tell the next generation about what farmers do every day and how hard they work,” said Brown, who lives in Millville, “and not just in the dairy industry but every segment of farming, including corn and soybean farmers, and hog producers.  We just want to make sure we share that story with everyone.”

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm included agricultural history

Ag history was on display with antique farm equipment at the second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm near Kellogg. The non-farm public had a chance to learn more about ag history and see some of the newest available equipment on display too. (Photo by Chad Smith)

The list of activities was a long one on Friday night.  The displays included the history of agriculture, with actual working equipment from back in the day as well as some of the newest equipment, a chance to watch the dairy farm at work, and plenty for the kids to do as well.

“We have a little bit of history,” Brown said as she took a break from helping at the lunch counter, “not just about the farm but how agriculture has changed.  We have a cream separator, which a lot of people may not know how it works, so it’ll be interesting to watch that.  We have a large sand pile for kids with hidden baseballs to find for a chance to win Twins tickets.  We have old and new tractors, a pedal tractor, calf feeding, and much more.”

She said it’s incredibly important to do more activities like this because of that growing disconnect between urban folks and people on the farm.  She sees that disconnect every day in her job as a Calf and Heifer Specialist with Land O’ Lakes.

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm offered a chance to get up close and personal with a dairy farm.

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm included a chance for the non-farm public to watch cow being milked in a working dairy on the Jary and Celene Holst farm near Kellogg. (photo by Chad Smith)

“I’ve been involved in the American Dairy Association and the dairy industry all my life,” Brown said.  “I’ve become very good friends with a couple from New York, and when I explain what I do when working with dairy farmers on the nutrition side making diets for cows and calves, they said ‘you do what?’  It’s interesting to talk to people that have no experience on a farm and tell them about what farmers do on a daily basis.

“When they ask ‘how do you milk a cow,’ they see you sitting on a stool between cows,” she said.  “We send them pictures showing that there’s a new way of milking cows in parlors which is more safe for humans and more efficient to operate.  It’s interesting to hear their take on it.”

As Brown was watching people walk by, she did see a lot of people from the surrounding community but did notice a large number of people who came from far away to enjoy a night on the farm with their family.  The other noticeable thing about the crowds was an incredible number of oranges shirts that signified volunteers who were helping the event run smoothly.

Lots of volunteer help at Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm

Family Night on the Farm organizer Katie Brown said there’s no way she could put an event like that together without lots of volunteer help, who were seen wearing bright orange shirts like this one all over the farm. (Photo by Chad Smith)

“I definitely couldn’t do it myself,” she said with a smile, “the Holst family has been great about bringing in family members and neighbors to help out.  The tractor club helps out, and so does the Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union, and people sometimes just come in to help without being asked.  They show up and say ‘give me a shirt and tell me what to do.’  That’s when you know you’re truly in an agricultural community when people step forward to help.  They step forward to help even when sign-up sheets at local banks are filled up.”

Brown and many of the other people running the event have roots that run deep in agriculture.  Katie grew up on a dairy farm and is very proud of what her family does.  Although she and her husband don’t dairy farm, their kids still get the experience of being on a farm regularly when they want to.  Not everyone is so fortunate to have farming in their immediate, or even extended, family.

Kids activities at Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm

A big goal of Family Night on the Farm is to educate the next generation of future adults about how agriculture works and introduce them to the people behind the food they eat. (photo by Chad Smith)

“I do worry about the next generation getting further and further away from understanding what is going on in farming,” Brown said.  “It’s not generally even the grandparents that farmed any more, it’s getting further away in the family.  It’s vital that we share our story with the next generation about where their food comes from, otherwise, they won’t appreciate it as much as they should.”

Last year, she was hoping for approximately 200 people to show up and they had an actual turnout closer to 600 people.  This year, the goal was 900 people.

“It feels good to see the turnout and it’s a beautiful evening,” Brown said.  “It’s exciting to see so many people show up.”

 

Here’s the complete interview with Katie Brown shortly after I pulled her out from behind the lunch counter for a quick chat.  I think you can hear just how busy the place was in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consumers will feel the pinch of the immigration debate

“The debate over the nation’s immigration policy is one of the more political and complex debates there are right now,” said Kristi Boswell, Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau.

While the debate rages on, agriculture is paying close attention to the process of establishing a new policy. If the nation’s farmers can’t find a reliable supply of workers to harvest crops, it would put America’s food supply and overall security at serious risk.

Americans who don’t live on a farm or have any close connection with agriculture may not know that agriculture relies on a steady supply of immigrant workers.

Kristi Boswell

Kristi Boswell is the Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington D.C. (Photo from the Farm Bureau website)

“Currently, 70 percent of our immigrant work force is not authorized to work in the United States,” said Boswell. “We also have a flawed guest worker program (H2A) that is expensive and burdensome, and it only supplies 4 percent of our workforce because of that cost and complexity.”

“Our farmers crave stability, and this is only going to come through responsible legislative immigration reform that provides solutions,” said Boswell.

Chandler Goule

Chandler Goule is the Senior Director of Programs with the National Farmers Union in Washington D.C. (Photo from www.biofuellawconference.org)

“I would say agriculture is the silent partner that gets hurt the most in this debate,” said Chandler Goule, the Senior Vice President of Programs at the National Farmers Union. “For those who say we should send all immigrants home, I’d like to see what their grocery bills look like in a few months. Immigrant labor gets the crops out of the fields and into the grocery stores.”

“I would love to say Americans would come and do this work,” said Boswell. “I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t want their children to become a crop worker. The wages are very competitive, peaking around 20 dollar an hour during harvest, but it’s very hard work and seasonal in nature.”

The H2A program presents challenges to farmers because of the way it’s structured.

“A producer tells the government how many employees he needs, then those folks come in and you pay them a set wage for a certain amount of time,” said Jordan Dux, the National Affairs Director for the Nebraska Farm Bureau. “It’s too stringent in the way it’s regulated, because if you’re employees finish work early, then you as the farmer still have to pay them for that contracted period.”

Jordan Dux

Jordan Dux is the Director of National Affairs with the Nebraska Farm Bureau (Photo from www.nefb.org)

“There’s not a lot of flexibility there for farmers because of the way it’s regulated,” said Dux. “They’re trying to make it a one-size-fits-all program for all of agriculture, and it doesn’t work that way.”

Agriculture is a hard business to lump under one umbrella. “Agriculture is a unique business in the way that different products are produced,” said Dux. “If you can build in flexibility within any program, that’s going to be beneficial for anything, including tax policy, farm programs, and anything else, it always works better.”

The need for flexibility stems from the fact that immigrant labor touches many different types of agriculture. “The issue definitely touches hand-labor intensive ag the most,” said Kristi Boswell. “It really does hit all of agriculture, including specialty crops, strawberries, citrus. You have apples, lettuce, and really, the entire produce industry relies on immigrant labor.”

“On the livestock side, dairy is very labor intensive,” said Boswell. “You have feedlots and pork facilities that require a lot of labor. Custom harvesters also use a lot of H2A labor as well.”

A lack of immigrant labor is causing some serious problems in agriculture fields across the country.

“We have a Farm Bureau member in Texas that literally had to shred 10 acres of squash because he didn’t have the labor force to get it out of the fields,” said Boswell. “That’s heart wrenching.”

Chandler Goule said, “It’s true. We have a segment of society sitting on government programs in agricultural areas that are more than capable of going out there and working in the fields. They won’t do physical labor.”

“The immigrants from the south will come and do all of the labor,” said Goule. “It’s a conundrum. That’s why I think it’s important for agriculture to remain in the debate.

“Everybody is so worried about the amnesty part of the debate,” said Chandler. “If they don’t do this right, agriculture will be hit first, it will be hit the hardest, and then you’ll see the true impacts of it because it will hit the consumer.”

“You’re used to going to the store and finding everything you need,” said Goule. “When we can’t get it out of the field and it’s rotting, you’re either going to see more imported food, which could come from a country that doesn’t have the same safety standards for food and vegetables, or you won’t find the product, period.”

Check out more Midwest Farm news at www.MidwestProducer.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farm Bureau sues EPA over alleged confidentiality breach

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council are suing the Environmental Protection Agency over the release of personal information on tens of thousands of individual farmers and ranchers back in early 2013.

 

Danielle Quist is the Senior Counsel for Public Policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. She said the EPA received a request from environmental groups under the Freedom of Information Act regarding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO’s.  The EPA defines Animal Feeding Operations as agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed.

Quist said the EPA recently asked states to provide information on the CAFO’s in their borders, and talked about the information they compiled from 29 of the 50 states:

Are beef cattle farmers and ranchers safe from animal activism? (Photo by Chad Smith)

Are beef cattle farmers and ranchers safe from animal activism? (Photo by Chad Smith)

 

According to FoxNews.com, the FOIA request came from three environmental activist groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pew Charitable Trust, and EarthJustice.   Quist said, “Without looking at what was contained in the requests, released all the information.”  The Farm Bureau says that’s where the problem arises.

 

Quist said “we found that states had given the EPA things like personal home phone numbers, personal email addresses, and even the GPS location of where each house was precisely located on these farms.  EPA literally put a bow on it, turned around, and handed the information to these environmental organizations.”

 

“We’re not talking about the number of animals on a farm, or the type of manure storage facility on the farm, which we have no problem with people knowing.  We’re talking about personal information.”

 

Quist said EPA’s position is “this information is available in the public domain, and they’re under no obligation to redact any of it.  Farm Bureau’s position is “if the home and the business are co-located, that is a home address, and there is case law in Minnesota, where the suit was filed, to support this.  Supreme Court decisions, for decades, have said that’s all personal information.” She said “the Supreme Court has said even though you run a business from home, that’s still all private information.”

 

Farm Bureau is concerned about the potential for mischief at these operations.  “You’ve got generations of family members that live on the site of these operations,” said Quist.  “We’re not trying to protect farmers with separate business locations and information, we’re trying to protect the farmers that live on site with a spouse and children, and we want their information to be kept private.”

Olmsted County Farm Bureau in Eyota, Mn (Photo by Chad Smith)

Olmsted County Farm Bureau in Eyota, Mn (Photo by Chad Smith)

 

According to the nationalreview.com, agro-terrorism is a new term that burst into the national spotlight back in the early hours of January 8, 2012.  A fire broke out at Harris Farms in the San Joaquin Valley of California, destroying 14 trailer trucks and causing more than 2 million dollars in damage.  An anonymous news release from the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility, describing how the attack took place, and concluded threateningly: “until next time.”

The Animal Liberation Front is a worldwide organization as you can see in this video.  The American Farm Bureau doesn’t want this kind of activism in America:

 

Bob Stallman, the President of the American Farm Bureau, told Agri-Pulse.com “EPA is in effect holding up a loudspeaker and broadcasting where private citizens live and where their children play.”

Are farms public businesses or private homes?  (Photo by Chad Smith)

Are farms public businesses or private homes? (Photo by Chad Smith)

 

Quist expects the case to “be in motions for summary judgment by this summer,” and is hoping for a final ruling by the end of 2014.  “This is a case everyone should be paying attention too.  If the EPA gets away with breaching confidentiality, which government agency will be next?”