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Farm Bureau president delivers pointed & passionate address to farmers & critics

Published Jan. 19, 2010 | Discuss this article on Facebook
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Stallman delivers his annual address to members (AFBF photo)

American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Bob Stallman delivered an invigorating speech to members at the organization's 91st annual meeting in Seattle last week. Stallman issued a call to action to Farm Bureau members and a stern warning to critics that farmers and ranchers will no longer tolerate opponents' efforts to change the landscape of American agriculture.

Stallman's speech has garnered nationwide attention as many focus on the Farm Bureau to see what 2010 will bring.

Below is the speech in its entirety. It may also be viewed or listened to at the links at the top of the page.

 

Passage to Success

"American author Mark Twain said the search for success boils down to three words … Explore. Dream. Discover.

America’s history is marked by journeys of discovery. In May 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began an expedition that shaped our nation. Their journey started at a camp on the Missouri River near St. Louis.

After more than a year and a half…of not knowing what was around the next bend in the river or beyond the next ridge, they reached their objective -- the Great Pacific Ocean.

However, two weeks prior to reaching that goal, upon entering a wide portion of the Columbia River, Captain Clark mistakenly wrote in his journal: “Ocean in View. O! The Joy.” I guess you could say he jumped the gun.

We gather in Seattle this week to measure progress along our own Passage to Success.

Like Captain Clark on that day, we have not yet concluded our journey. And each of us … whether farmer, rancher, grower or producer … is striving to secure our passage to success in agriculture.

We have faced and will continue to face challenges along the way.

One example….the nonstop criticism of contemporary agriculture!

Studies still show that consumers profess their admiration for us. Unfortunately, that admiration does not always extend to how we do what we do.

Movies, magazine articles, undercover videos, all have sown seeds of doubt. Some members of our society question the values behind our tools and processes. They have begun to wonder about our moral compass.

Our mission of feeding our nation and our world, caring for the environment and respecting the rights of our neighbors has not changed from our grandfathers’ days. But the ways in which we carry out that mission have.

It is more vital than ever that we communicate about our values, that we convey how food production today is compatible with traditional ideals.

We hear much about “sustainability,” which in my book is the most overused and ill-defined word in the policy arena today.

The first sustainability for agriculture has to be economic sustainability.

Without that, farmers and ranchers will not be on the land to provide all the rest of the “sustainables” that some are demanding.

Profit weighs into our decisions. It must! But we also consider many other factors. How can we best care for our animals? How can we do a better job of respecting our natural resources? How can we provide assurances that we also share the core values of those people who consume the fruits of our labor?

We draw strength and guidance from those who traveled this path before us.

This past year, agriculture lost one of the giants of agriculture. Dr. Norman Borlaug blazed the trail that led modern agriculture to higher production, to more food for mankind.

Dr. Borlaug was the father of the green revolution. His work – in the field as well as the lab – saved millions of people from poverty and starvation.

He believed that the first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind. A Nobel Prize winner…recipient of our Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award…and many more accolades.

But he never forgot where he came from…he always saw his mission through the modest eyes of an Iowa farm boy.

I quote Dr. Borlaug: “I am but one member of a vast team (including) millions of farmers - mostly small and humble - who for many years have been fighting a quiet, oftentimes losing war on the food production front.”

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, the world will have to produce 70 percent more food in the next 40 years to feed an extra 2.3 billion people who will share our planet.

In order to meet that challenge, we must prepare for a second Green Revolution. Our continued use of modern, efficient farming practices will allow us to succeed.

And this battle cannot be won by creating more farmland.

Even worse, the Climate Change legislation before Congress will sharply cut the number of acres devoted to food production.

At the very time that we need to increase our food production, Climate Change legislation threatens to slash our ability to do so. The exact level of land that will shift to trees will depend on the price of carbon – a number nobody knows at this point – but USDA suggests we could easily be talking about 59 million acres.

That’s like setting aside every acre of land used for crop and food production in California, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

In today’s terms, that means eliminating about 130,000 farms and ranches that grow food and crops.

The United States would be less able to provide the world a viable hunger safety net. Food prices here at home would shoot up. The result? Less food security and our climate would not improve, not even by one degree.

I don’t know about you, but that is not the kind of American agriculture I want to leave behind for future generations.

The United States is one of the world’s most important food producing regions. We are blessed with temperate climate, quality soils, technical know-how and political and economic systems that help drive our productive capability.

I believe in the saying, if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, the hard facts are, that for parts of the world, we cannot improve the depth of topsoil, create rainfall, make the climate more temperate, or ensure economic and social justice for farmers.

History proves that our nation is always ready to help in time of need. We have fed parts of Europe and Asia, just as today we focus on Africa and the Middle East.

The world will continue to depend on food from the United States of America. And as global citizens, we must address those needs. To throttle back our ability to produce food -- at a time when the UN projects billions of more mouths to feed – is a moral failure.

During this meeting, you can add your voice to those of your fellow Farm Bureau members who have already spoken out against the misguided climate change legislation under consideration.

Stop by our tradeshow booth, sign a petition and pick up a farm cap. Our message to Congress about cap and trade is clear – Don’t CAP Our Future.

Feeding the world is important, but we must also pay attention to the vocal chorus of well-fed but unsatisfied consumers here at home. We must work harder to meet both ends of the food equation. We must provide for wants as well as needs.

As I scan this hall, I see farmers who embrace all the tools of modern agriculture. I see people who choose modern organic production…I see folks who plant conventional seed and those who use biotechnology.

I see families who raise livestock in sheltered, climate-controlled conditions. I see feedlot operators. But also among our ranks here in Seattle, I see farm and ranch families who produce grass-fed beef, free-range pork and cage-free eggs.

These are the personal and business choices we have made about how best to serve consumers.

Farm Bureau reflects all of agriculture.

We are comprised of farmers of all different political persuasions using a variety of production methods, all while executing unique marketing strategies. We have farmers who drive different brands of trucks, and different colors of tractors. We need all of you.

Together, we produce the staples, the ingredients, the main courses and the side dishes…and let’s not forget dessert! It takes each and every one of us to put a meal on America’s dinner table – a table made of wood we produced – and covered with an all cotton tablecloth.

But, in doing that, remember that each of us fills but one square in a bigger patchwork quilt that is American agriculture.

It is a delicate balancing act, but in celebrating our farms and ranches, we must not disparage the labors and the values of our neighbors who provide for consumers in a different way.

Already, there are too many external forces tugging at our seams. Emotionally charged labels such as: monoculture, factory farmer, industrial food, and big ag -- threaten to fray our edges.

We must not let the activists and self-appointed – and self promoting -- food experts drive a wedge between us.

While we must be responsive to consumer demand, we must also stand beside each other. Today, it takes all of America’s farm and ranch families to get the job done.

Agriculture is a business. You have chosen this life, this lifestyle, this livelihood based on your devotion to the land, your values, and a unique call to stewardship. Those are key factors overlooked by critics who question our values and our abiding dedication to agriculture. Unless you experience it, there is no way to comprehend that we literally live our jobs. We can’t phone it in. We don’t punch out. And there are no comp days. Just as we feel strongly about agriculture, we share the same type of deep passion for our nation. Through thick and thin, we are all Americans.

Our country faces serious economic challenges. We are spending money as if there will be no tomorrow. We are mortgaging our grandchildren’s future to the hilt. The numbers are so large they defy comprehension…or maybe not!

I was speaking to a County Farm Bureau meeting last fall and described the budget deficit of 1.4 trillion dollars that had just been announced. I said I had a hard time understanding just how much money that is.

And then I asked, “Do any of you know how much that is?” And a little lady in the back of the hall shouted out….“Too much!” That, ladies and gentlemen, is the answer….too much spending….too much debt.

As we begin to emerge from this economic downturn, there is much work remaining.

That’s why the American Farm Bureau Board assembled a Deficit Reduction Task Force made up of members from across the nation. Each member brought to the table varied backgrounds from different regions, different professional experiences and different life stages.

In the past, Farm Bureau has been a strong advocate for a balanced budget. But in recent times our policy has evolved to focus more on the needs of agriculture – to ask government to do more for us.

Even so, over the last ten years, if the rest of our federal government experienced the same reductions in budget and spending as we have seen in our agricultural programs, we would have a balanced budget!

The question for us to answer: Should we revisit our policies and priorities given the fiscal and debt situation our country finds itself in today? That is why the Board approved this task force.

The Task Force offered a set of recommendations for you to consider during policy deliberations.

These recommendations included: Working toward a balanced federal budget and deficit reduction by 2019. Taking steps to make Social Security self-financing. And - while recognizing all citizens need access to basic medical care – we need to reform and support our private medical insurance system.

Again, these broad points and underlying specifics were offered to county and state Farm Bureaus as policy recommendations for consideration. I am hopeful that with your input and direction, we will have crystal clear direction on these issues by the end of this week.

This process is characteristic of how our organization works. We take a deliberate approach to the issues before us. We thoroughly debate our policy positions at the county, state and national levels.

In addition to being known as the Voice of Agriculture, we are also respected for our voice of reason.

Our country needs Farm Bureau’s steady hand now more than ever. Many of our fellow citizens are anxious. Many are angry.

There are a number of semi-organized movements taking shape across our land, led by citizens upset that their voices are going unheard. They fear a loss of control of their freedoms, their decisions, even their wallets.

I also like to think of Farm Bureau as a movement – but ours is a lasting movement … for 91 years now. The Farm Bureau movement is marked by dedication, optimism and activism. There is never any doubt that our members’ voices are heard.

That’s one of the big reasons our membership has grown – for 49 consecutive years.

It is up to us to share the strength of our character and the tradition of our values with our fellow citizens.

But, a line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and the way we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule.

Our adversaries are skillful at taking advantage of our politeness. Publicly, they call for friendly dialogue while privately their tactics are far from that.

Who could blame us for thinking that the avalanche of misguided, activist-driven regulation on labor and environment being proposed in Washington is anything but unfriendly.

The time has come to face our opponents with a new attitude. The days of their elitist power grabs are over.

General George Patton was very quotable. He said that in times of war, “Make your plans to fit the circumstances.”

To those who expect to just roll over America’s farm and ranch families, my only message is this: The circumstances have changed.

Just one example…the Ohio Farm Bureau embraced this attitude by taking the fight to the enemies of modern animal agriculture. Ohio’s Ballot Issue 2 was a big win and one we must duplicate far and wide.

Farm Bureau members, I ask you the following questions:

Are we going to let animal rights activists destroy our ability to produce the meat that Americans want to eat? I say: No, we are not!

Are we going to stand idly by as the proponents of a bigger government choke us with regulation? I say: No, we are not!

Are we going to let the hysteria of doom and gloom climate change rhetoric diminish our ability to produce food for Americans and the rest of the world? I say: No we are not!

Can we…Can we stand up -- as did our forefathers -- and fight for a better future for this great country? I say: Yes, we can!

We must take up this new mission, even as we continue to carry out our traditional duties. America will be strengthened by our productivity. Our planet will be protected. And its people … all its people … will be better fed.

Our journey continues from this day. Our destination looms before us like an unexplored mountain range or the expanse of an unbroken prairie…with battles to be won and challenges to overcome.

Farm Bureau members, thanks to you, your organization is stronger than ever…in numbers…in grassroots strength…in influence.

Together…we hold in trust the future of our industry.

And through our involvement, we will succeed. Our passage to success is Farm Bureau.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your president. It is an honor to lead this great organization.

God bless you. God bless Farm Bureau. God bless America."



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