Virginia Farm Bureau members gathered for the state’s annual convention had the privilege of hearing American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Vincent ‘Zippy’ Duvall speak at the opening of the delegate session.
As he addressed the delegate body, Duvall said, “Every minute you spend in your county and state working on policies is valuable. You don’t waste one minute spent thinking about our policy because that’s what we’re all about. All the people who work at American Farm Bureau are focused on amplifying your voice. The only way we can do that is for you to take time and make sure you send the correct policies to us. Don’t ever think you wasted your time being here.”
Duvall is a third-generation Georgia farmer and currently raises beef cattle, broilers and hay with his wife Bonnie. But despite his lifelong experience in agriculture, Duvall realized that he wasn’t familiar with the crops and issues in other parts of the nation. When he was elected AFBF president in January 2016, Duvall made it his mission to visit every state in the nation.
“The only way I could be your president was to listen to you,” he said. “I’ve been on those farms, seen those farmers; sometimes with smiles on their faces and sometimes with tears in their eyes. It’s been an emotional ride.”
Duvall says labor was the number one issue he heard about when talking with farmers and ranchers across the nation. “There’s no other issue that’s more important to our farmers than their labor,” he said. “They’ve got land, most have water and buildings, they just don’t have the labor to continue to expand and grow.”
The second issue is regulations that make it difficult to farm. “Overregulation is making it harder for us to do business,” he said. “This administration has already done away with 866 regulations. That’s a good start, and I’m encouraged.” Duvall added that international trade is a vital part of agriculture, and that we need to keep what works and eliminate regulations that hamper farmers.
Duvall says that the controversial TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) could potentially benefit farmers. “We lost $4.4 billion that would have gone to the farm because we didn’t go into TPP,” he said. “We’re still dealing with rules and regulations that are 25 and 30 years old, before we even had technology on the farm. TPP would have brought a modern system of having rules and regulations in our trade treaties.”
Duvall added that one of three acres, 30 percent of income, is coming from trade, and he implored farmers to continue telling everyone in this administration and on the Hill how important trade is. “We know there are problems with NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement),” he said. “But not in agriculture. We know there are a few problem areas, and we’d love to fix those. But the big problems with NAFTA are not agriculture.”
Duvall emphasized the fact that farm exports increased from $8 billion to $38 billion during NAFTA, and he’s hopeful that ongoing meetings with both Mexico and Canada will help calm the trade atmosphere.
Tax reform is the third issue of concern that Duvall heard as he spoke with farmers and ranchers, and says with the current tax bill, most farmers should pay less in taxes.
The last issue Duvall heard about throughout the nation is what he refers to as ‘the thing that brings all farm groups together and tears us apart’, and that’s the Farm Bill. Duvall says while the Farm Bill probably won’t be finished by Jan. 1, he’s hopeful that there will be progress by the end of the first quarter of 2018.
Rather than referring to the Farm Bill as such, Duvall says referring to it as a Food Security Bill would make all Americans feel as if they have a stake in it, as well as a realization of the importance of the Bill to every citizen. “A country that can’t feed itself is a weak country,” he said. “Look at what happens to countries that can’t feed themselves.”
Duvall mentioned that it’s important to make sure there’s support for crop insurance. “We have other groups — the Heritage Foundation, the Freedom Caucus — and they’ve got a big old X on the Farm Bill and the center of that is crop insurance. If we go to sleep, we could lose this. We have farmers today that if they can’t prove they have crop insurance, they can’t get operating loans.”
Duvall stressed the importance of all farmers and ranchers working together to present a united front that will benefit all. “Don’t have all your struggles in the back room,” he said. “Don’t let cotton tear down corn, and don’t let corn tear down beef. Don’t make us choose winners and losers. Bring us one voice and don’t tear each other down.”
A personal chat between Duvall and President Trump led to Farm Bureau having an important seat at the table when it comes to dealing with the issues Duvall outlined for delegates. However, Duvall stressed the fact that ‘the president didn’t call Zippy Duvall, he called AFBF.’ Duvall also noted several appointees who will be highly important to the future of ag: Sonny Perdue, who is only the fourth U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to be actively involved in farming, and who makes decisions based on sound science. Duvall also praised EPA head Pruitt for wanting to enforce the law of the land, and encouraged farmers to support those efforts. “They want to work together to tear down every barrier that confronts rural America and agriculture and small business so we can move this country forward and create jobs and build our economy,” said Duvall. “Never before have we had this kind of relationship of the right people.”
What can Farm Bureau do? Stay united. “If the Virginia farmer isn’t willing to fight for the California farmer, we’re wasting our time,” said Duvall. “We have to be willing to go to bat for everyone. We have to be united. The second thing is that we have to stay engaged. We have an opportunity to change the future for our children and grandchildren to profit in agriculture. If we don’t use technology and don’t tell our story, we’re going to miss the opportunity to engage.”
Duvall says the third effort, and undoubtedly the most difficult, is perseverance. “Nothing happens in Washington,” he said. “It’s slow. It’s going to take our willingness to stay engaged for a long time, and be very persistent.”