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'This is our moment' — AFBF president celebrates successes, debuts new mental health resources

“Thank you for being a force for good in your communities, a friend to your neighbors, and an advocate for the noble profession we call farming,” Duvall said in his opening address to the 105th AFBF Convention. “I celebrate our successes with you all — each story shared, each award earned, every policy win, and each new step we take into a new frontier.” Image credit: AFBF
Date Posted: January 23, 2024

From a resounding victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, to securing a crucial extension to the farm bill, and advocating for agriculture with Congress, consumers and families, the American Farm Bureau Federation and its state members have a lot to celebrate, according to AFBF President Zippy Duvall.

Duvall looked back on the successes of the past year and charted the organization’s course forward in his opening address to the 105th American Farm Bureau Convention, being held in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Noting the event’s theme of “New Frontiers,” Duvall said he could imagine the pioneers watching the sunset over the mountains, wondering what was waiting on the other side.

“I’m sure they had their doubts and fears along the way. But they worked together and persevered — and they made it,” Duvall said.

“As farmers, I believe we all have a little pioneering spirit in us. We’re eager to see what’s next, and how we can get there together.”

Winning in Washington

What does it take to reach new frontiers? It takes leadership, Duvall said, noting that AFBF is leading the way as farmers’ voice in Washington.

“A powerful example of our federation’s strength is our advocacy on the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. Together we saw a major victory at the Supreme Court with WOTUS,” Duvall said.

“The highest court in the land agreed with what we have been saying all along. The Justices unanimously struck down EPA’s significant nexus test … and they sent EPA and the Corps back to the drawing board.”

While the EPA’s new rule technically complies with the court’s decision, Duvall said it doesn’t provide the clarity farmers need, adding “you can bet we’ll keep working to protect you from the threat of penalties for simply farming your land.”

Farm bill advocacy

Last year, Duvall spoke about the power of farm and nutrition groups coming together to advocate for the farm bill. That power has formed into the Farm Bill for America’s Families campaign, bringing together a diverse group across agriculture, conservation, and nutrition to explain why the farm bill matters for all Americans.

Michigan Farm Bureau was among the 11 state Farm Bureaus that joined in launching the campaign, which Duvall said has reached millions of people across the country.

“But’s that’s just a slice of all we’re doing to advocate for a new farm bill,” Duvall said, adding that Farm Bureau started working closely with all four corners of the agriculture committees long before the farm bill expired.

“In fact, 2,300 of our grassroots leaders and members came to Washington in 2023 to advocate for the farm bill. The road to a new farm bill has become longer than any of us would have liked, but together we can see it through.”

Leading in sustainability

Farm Bureau’s work in Washington also included leadership on sustainability, working to find the right pathway forward in government policy and corporate commitments.

“We have successfully advocated for voluntary, incentive-based solutions, instead of government mandates,” Duvall said.

“Now, leaders and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are inviting farmers to the table to help create those solutions. We have even been called to the White House, twice now, to talk about how climate programs must be voluntary and treat farmers fairly.”

Duvall added that AFBF is also working with food companies to help them better understand farmers, citing a new Food and Farm Council formed by Pepsi after leaders from the company attended last year’s American Farm Bureau Convention.

“It’s all about treating farmers as partners,” said Duvall, who serves on the Food and Farm Council.

Federal Milk Marketing Order reform

Farm Bureau took on a big challenge to reform the Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) system, Duvall said, adding that everyone across the industry could agree that reform was long overdue.

“Now as a former dairyman myself, I can say agreeing on a problem is one thing, but agreeing on a solution is a whole different ball game,” Duvall added.

“That was our challenge: finding consensus on what dairy reform should look like. Where others saw a mountain blocking their path, we saw an opportunity to grow stronger and lift up the industry.”

The ongoing FMMO hearing and need for additional reforms were part of a farmer consensus formed at an FMMO Forum held in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2022. That forum was convened because of Michigan Farm Bureau member-approved policy.

In September 2023, Van Buren County dairy farmer Tim Hood, Shiawassee County dairy farmer Brad Ritter and Branch County producer Brian Preston testified at the FMMO hearing.

New mental health resources

Farm families will now have access to a free, 24/7 peer-to-peer support community available, thanks to Farm Bureau’s new relationship with the Farm Family Wellness Alliance.

Access to services starts at Togetherall, a safe, clinically moderated peer-to-peer community, where members around the world are there to listen, support and give members’ mental wellbeing a boost.

“If additional counseling services are needed, they will also be made available free-of-charge,” Duvall said. “You do not need to go through hard times alone, and Farm Bureau is right there with you.”

Five years ago, Farm Bureau launched an initiative around mental health and wellness, with Duvall calling the Farm State of Mind platform becoming the go-to resource in our rural communities.

AFBF is also partnering with the Ad Council on a campaign featuring a Farm Bureau member sharing his family’s story.

“This Ad Council partnership will help boost our reach beyond what we could have hoped for,” Duvall said. “But, at the end of the day, it comes down to you and me recognizing the warning signs, however subtle, and acting on them when we see them.”

Harvest for All celebrated

Farm Bureau is working on a national scale to support our communities, Duvall noted, citing the impact of the Young Farmer’s Harvest for All program.

“In the last 22 years, Harvest for All participants have donated more than 400 million pounds of food and nearly 230,000 volunteer hours to local food banks,” Duvall said, adding that the program won the highest honor given in a national competition among associations.”

In its mission to end hunger, Michigan Farm Bureau took top honors in the Harvest for All program, raising $372,716 in 2022.

According to AFBF, farm and ranch families nationwide donated 25.3 million pounds of food and raised more than $1 million through the Harvest for All program in 2022.

“Thank you for being a force for good in your communities, a friend to your neighbors, and an advocate for the noble profession we call farming,” Duvall concluded.

“I celebrate our successes with you all — each story shared, each award earned, every policy win, and each new step we take into a new frontier. Friends, this is our moment. I see new opportunities in 2024 and such a bright future.”