American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall got his start in the organization by joining his local Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Committee when he was a young man. Today, he leads a Farm Bureau family that’s 2,800 counties strong. That call to leadership has to start somewhere.

The AFBF FUSION Conference, which took place this year in Jacksonville, FL, brings together volunteer leaders from the Promotion & Education, Women’s Leadership and YF&R programs. This year’s theme was “Cultivating a New Era.”

The conference’s objectives are simple: to cultivate strong grassroots Farm Bureau leadership by bringing together current and future members of Farm Bureau and other ag organizations to learn, share and grow; to provide networking opportunities; to engage and celebrate members of the aforementioned programs; and to give back to communities across the country through charitable outreach, community engagement and/or acts of kindness.

The overarching goal was to inspire the nearly 1,000 attendees to apply conference takeaways on their farm and in their local Farm Bureau by providing information on AFBF’s four major focus areas – consumer outreach, member value, advocacy, outreach and education and leadership development.

Kicking thing off this year was Alex Weber, former host and contestant of NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior.” The motivational speaker noted that 92% of people don’t achieve their goals, per a University of Scranton study. “But you’re not most people,” he told those in attendance. “What you do matters – you are a force of good for humanity.”

Weber stressed the power of positive thinking and asked his audience to think about what they really want. Once they have that goal, they need to make it clear, then claim that purpose, identity, etc. They need to commit – never quit. To make it happen, they should connect with amazing, good-hearted people.

“Your challenges become your gifts,” Weber explained, through experience, empathy and knowledge. And the final key to reaching a goal is choice – “instead of giving in to negativity, choose yourself,” he said.

Cameron Ramsey, YF&R Committee chair, introduced Duvall for his keynote address. He began by defining fusion: “the conversion of different components into a union, most of the time with heat.”

“So I’m gonna turn the heat up and see what we can get you excited to do when you go home from here,” Duvall said. “The mission of American Farm Bureau is to be the voice of agriculture – and we’re ready to share one voice … even though farms are different, states are different, commodities are different, people are different. For 102 years, we’ve been able to fusion all those thoughts and beliefs together to create one united voice, and that is nothing short of a miracle. Out of that fusion in 1919, we grew a family that’s six million strong.”

Farm Bureau gets fired up at Fusion

“People are more interested in what we’re doing than ever before,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said. “We gotta get fired up.” Photos by Courtney Llewellyn

Duvall noted, however, that Farm Bureau needs to have everybody at the table. The organization’s membership is struggling a little; they have to do a better job at outreach. “We have to have young, old, middle-aged, large farmers, small farmers, organic farmers, traditional farmers, minority farmers … so that when we say we we’re the one united voice of American agriculture we truly are. I’m gonna keep talking about it until we make that happen. You can make that happen. People buy in when you reach out.”

He also commented on how people are more interested in what farmers do than ever before. “We got to make sure we tell how we do – why we do – so that they can understand,” Duvall said. “We gotta get fired up. We gotta fuse all our excitement together and cultivate and grow strong leaders for Farm Bureau’s future.”

During a question and answer session, he was asked about the best way to work across the aisle. He said to find the principles you can agree on; people need to sit on the same side of the table to achieve their mutual goals. “Find that common ground to capitalize what you do agree on,” he added.

Questioned about urban agriculture’s role in Farm Bureau, Duvall said, “We need them at the table too. It’s a sector of agriculture that’s growing. There’s plenty of market for all of us. It’s crucially important they be a part of Farm Bureau.”

And for those who age out of the YF&R program but are looking for another role, he mentioned “Member in the Middle” programs for those aged 36 – 50. He added that Promotion & Education is also “a great place for them to land.”

“Those leadership roles will come around,” he said. “We can grow a strong tomorrow with great leaders like you … You’re important, you are powerful, you are strong and when you go home, act like it.”

Duvall concluded his speech with this message: “I hope that you sow bountifully and reap bountifully, no matter what you do.”

by Courtney Llewellyn

A group of YF&R Committee members take a break to enjoy the scenery along the St. John’s River in Jacksonville.