by Sally Colby
After conducting the business of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB) virtually last year, several hundred members met in person for the 71st annual meeting in Hershey, PA.
One of the most important roles of all state Farm Bureaus is establishing policy on issues that affect agriculture and rural communities. The process begins with resolutions submitted by members at the county level, which are voted on by membership at the county’s annual meeting. Adopted resolutions become policies and advance to the state convention where they are discussed and voted on for inclusion in the next year’s policy book. Farm Bureau maintains close relationships with local and state government officials and advances adopted policies to ensure a strong voice for agriculture in both state and federal legislation.
State topics that invoked dialogue among delegates included voting regulations, labeling for plant-based meat substitutes, alternative energy and milk marketing. Delegates also had a prolonged discussion regarding a proposed national policy that would exempt farmers from the Federal Meat Inspection Act to allow on-farm slaughter and sale of meat.
PFB President Rick Ebert urged both state and federal lawmakers to address key issues that affect the ag community including broadband infrastructure, a climate agenda that acknowledges farmers’ positive work, conservation funding and increased packing plant processing capacity. Ebert noted that the pandemic resulted in strong consumer interest in purchasing meat directly from local sources, but farmers have faced difficulty securing processing dates.
Farm Bureau members were also recognized for their service. Dr. James Diamond, a long-time Farm Bureau member and ag education advocate, received the 2021 Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award. Diamond has a nearly 60-year career in teaching agriculture in Pennsylvania and around the world. He served as a Peace Corps volunteer and as an Extension education consultant for the UN. Diamond has extensive teaching experience in vocational ag and at Delaware Valley University and Penn State.
“I like the title of this award because it’s my contribution to agriculture, not just in Pennsylvania but the whole world,” said Diamond. “I hope and pray that somewhere along the way I’ve been able to help people help themselves that will benefit humankind, not just now, but in the future as well.”
The PFB Agriculture Promotion Committee selected Adams County teacher Wendy Stoner as the 2021 Teacher of the Year. Stoner incorporated creative ag-related activities into her first grade curriculum after participating in the Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture Foundation’s (PFAF) Ag Institute.
Crawford County ag enthusiast and educator Cathy Vorisek received the 2021 Partnership in Ag Literacy Award, presented by PFAF. Ebert noted Vorisek’s positive attitude as she connects with students in the classroom.
Evelyn Minteer of Butler County was named 2021 Outstanding Woman in Agriculture. A 30-year Farm Bureau member, Minteer has participated in numerous successful ag promotion activities including the creation of a “Buy Local” flyer made available to consumers interested in supporting local businesses.
PFB’s Barnraiser Award, the organization’s highest honor, recognizes individuals who have spent a lifetime in dedicated leadership to the ag community. Dave Williams, this year’s recipient, was honored for his years of service to agriculture through his radio and TV programs. Williams farms in Honesdale, PA, and his show is broadcast six days a week on 24 radio stations in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
Featured banquet speaker was third-generation Georgia farmer Zippy Duvall, who has served as president of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) since 2016. Pennsylvania is the 23rd state Duvall has visited since June, and he said he’s seen visible optimism for American agriculture.
As Duvall thanked members who work on policy development, he spoke about the grassroots efforts and the wealth of knowledge that originates from county Farm Bureaus. “The strength of our organization comes from farmers and ranchers from all over this country,” he said. “What makes it powerful is that everyone in Washington knows that, and they know American Farm Bureau speaks your words and your policies, and it’s what they listen to.”
Last year was the first year in AFBF’s 102 years the organization didn’t meet in person, but Duvall noted some positives that resulted from the virtual platform, including participation from numerous county members who had never attended the AFBF annual meeting before.
Duvall said the challenges faced by both farmers and consumers during the pandemic helped the ag community grow stronger as farmers worked together to find solutions. The hashtag #stillfarming, which was picked by every state Farm Bureau, helped unite farmers and consumers dealing with food shortages.
“We not only became stronger, we have grown together,” said Duvall, commenting on the past 20 months. “I’ve traveled this country trying to lift our members up. The politics might not be what you want them to be, but we need you out there to engage more than ever before. This organization is about bringing one united force in good times and bad.”
In his comments, Duvall acknowledged the many farmers throughout the nation who worked together to donate food, the leadership activities of young Farm Bureau members and those who continued Ag in the Classroom programs when schools were shut down. Duvall also mentioned the vital role of AFBF’s partnership with the National Farmers Union and Farm Credit to address mental health issues during the pandemic.
Duvall noted that in the past, bipartisanship in the Ag Committee helped solve rural issues. “It isn’t that way now,” he said. “We have to go about things differently and work together to accomplish the goals of Farm Bureau. The best thing for us to do in a difficult environment is work out the problems. Sit down and find some common ground and run with it.” Duvall mentioned working toward ensuring proposed programs that affect agriculture, such as the 30 x 30 conservation plan, are incentive-based and voluntary.
As Duvall assured attendees that AFBF continues to work with the current administration to solve tough and divisive issues, he explained that Farm Bureau policy is taken seriously. He emphasized the importance of county level activities, such as attending town halls and inviting legislators to visit farms help to develop and maintain vital relationships that benefit farmers. “We have to continue to work hard to make sure we retain that trust,” he said. “We need to get outside our fencerows and tell our story, and it all starts with you.”