By MEGGIE I. FOSTER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Farmers and ranchers from across the nation gathered in the country music capital of the world last week for the 94th annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).
According to AFBF President Bob Stallman’s opening address, Farm Bureau members can draw many parallels from country music to farming and ranching. In the 1950s and 60s, classic country music greats like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash reigned on the radio, while today country artists such as Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts can often be heard on pop radio.
“Whether you prefer a Miranda Lambert song, or George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning,” there’s something in the country playlist to suit everyone’s tastes,” said Stallman, a rice and cattle producer from the lone-star state of Texas. “We’ve seen similar trends in agriculture. Consumer tastes are all over the map, and they continue to change. But one thing will never change is that consumers need farmers and ranchers to produce our food and other commodities we consume in our economy. You, America’s farmers are innovative and productive enough to meet all of those diverse demands, and ensure that we continue to meet the growing demand for food, fiber and fuel.”
But many farmers and ranchers could agree that 2012 was not an easy year to farm in the food, fiber and fuel industries with a drought burdening many crops across the nation and a new farm bill that failed to pass on Capitol Hill.
Stallman, speaking to the nearly 8,000 Farm Bureau members in attendance said that more than half of the country was in a severe drought last summer. Crops withered, hay supplies disappeared, feed costs soared and wildfires blazed.
“Thankfully, our crop insurance program worked as intended and we lived to fight another day,” he said. “ And I don’t have to tell you that it’s been a contentious time in Washington, D.C., and Congress wasn’t willing to take much concrete action in an election year. But, after the election, it was time to stop campaigning and start governing. While farmers still need a five-year farm bill, Congress extended the 2008 farm bill for another year. The farm bill was one of only a couple of issues that rose to a level that warranted Congress’ attention during the post-election, lame-duck session. What Congress did on the farm bill is not perfect, but at least it gives us certainty for 2013.”
Beyond the farm bill, Stallman said that recently enacted permanent reform of estate and capital gains taxes was a big win for farmers and ranchers – “one that Farm Bureau members worked hard to achieve.”
Stallman also pointed to a more united front in American agriculture on the issue of agricultural labor. He insisted that farmers need a workforce that is “legal, stable and reliable.”
“For too long, we have dealt with the shortcomings of a broken farm labor system,” he added. “The results have been labor shortages, lost crops and bureaucratic nightmares. Our nation’s leaders can’t continue to avoid this issue. We need solutions.”
Stallman hoped that Farm Bureau, working in conjunction with the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, will offer a more “reasonable, practical and common-sense farm labor option that works for growers and workers, alike” this year.
During his address, Stallman continued to praise farmers and ranchers for their innovation, productivity and efficiency to “meet the diverse and growing food demands,” of today’s consumers. “Consumer tastes are all over the map, and they continue to change,” he said.
One thing remains constant, Stallman added, that consumers need farmers to continue to work hard to produce food every single day.
“Each farmer already feeds an average of 155 people and estimates are that food production must double to meet global demand,” he explained.
In tune with the theme of the 94th annual meeting, “Many Voices, One Vision,” Stallman encouraged Farm Bureau members to tell their personal stories about how they are using fewer resources to grow crops and produce meat, milk and eggs.
“Consumers really listen when we talk about our desire to continually improve sustainability, quality and safety on our farms,” he said. “We must open our doors – and maybe more importantly, open our minds – to consumers and their perspectives about food and agriculture.”