We just finished the 101 st annual American Farm Bureau Convention in Austin, Texas. It was a great event again and the most important part is that our policy is in place again for the coming year.
As you may know, AFBF President Zippy Duvall’s wife, Bonnie has been fighting cancer for about 9 years. Her health had been declining rapidly in the last few weeks, and Pres. Duvall made the decision a few days before the convention that he would not be attending as he needed to be with Bonnie and the family. That was a great decision, as she passed away on Saturday, Jan. 18, just before the convention was to begin.
That was a very sad evening for all of us, but the good news is that she is no longer suffering and is now in a much better place. We also realized that Bonnie would not have wanted her death to disrupt her beloved Farm Bureau convention. So, we decided that we would not allow it to become a funeral, but instead we would celebrate her life and contribution to the organization. Michelle and I attended Bonnie’s funeral on Thursday following the end of the convention. It was one of the most wonderful, inspiring funerals we have ever attended. Bonnie will be sorely missed by all of us in the Farm Bureau family.
In light of the absence of Pres. Duvall, I was on the front lines of most things that happened. Our staff did a fantastic job of pulling together and doing what needed to be done and making sure I had everything I needed and got where I needed to be at the right time.
There were lots of things to celebrate this year as well. President Trump attended the convention for the third time in a row and had a great message for the members. Many successes were observed, including trade deals with China, Japan, the European Union and USMCA. The demise of the Waters of the US rule has been accomplished with a new, much more clear rule that was just announced after the convention. Pres. Trump also discussed ag labor, the economy and several other issues.
Secretary Sonny Perdue was also with us and gave us an update from his position as Secretary of the USDA. Our members thanked him richly for all he does on our behalf every day.
On policy issues, the majority of the resolutions sent in from South Dakota FB passed and will be included in the AFBF policy book for 2020. The one on permanently changing the forage harvest date on prevented planting land passed, including allowing chopping of the forage as well.
Four of the five points in regard to wetland and Swampbuster violations passed. They were:
- Requiring the USDA to provide the entire record or decisional documentation to the farmer at the time of the alleged compliance violation and/or at the time of an adverse determination.
- Allow the farmer and his counsel to call NRCS technical staff as witnesses in appeals.
- Accept evidence provided by the farmer as true, absent substantial evidence to the contrary.
- Compensate the farmer for legal fees and civil damages when the farmer wins an appeal as a result of incorrect decisions from the NRCS.
The resolution stating that the NRCS should not have the authority to rescind its position in the appeals process also passed.
Also, the one that says the FSA state and county committees will preside over the NRCS in the same capacity as they do with the FSA was successful.
Another resolution that was of interest to many of you was from North Dakota and requests that the Swampbuster law be repealed. That also will be in the policy book for 2020.
Here are a few other highlights of policy additions or changes.
Delegates updated labor and immigration policies, emphasizing that we must see significant changes to the H-2A program. AFBF calls for an accessible, competitive guest worker program, and will work to address problems with the adverse effect wage rate and emphasize the importance of year-round program access to all of agriculture.
In regard to dairy, delegates voted to support creation of a flexible, farmer and industry led milk management system. This includes giving individual dairy farmers a voice by allowing them to vote independently and confidentially on rules governing milk prices.
On conservation compliance, the changes SDFB sent in would improve program transparency and due process for farmers. I think it highlights the growing frustration with conservation compliance practices within the NRCS.
Delegates also supported science-based climate change research and the documentation of agriculture’s tremendous advances toward climate-smart practices.
Finally, Pres. Duvall and I were re-elected to our respective positions of leadership for AFBF for the next two years. It is such an honor to serve with him and the AFBF staff, and also to serve as president of SDFB and work with our great state staff and members as well!
As always, please let me know if you have questions about policy or want to discuss any issues.
Thanks so much for your membership and leadership for our great organization!
South Dakota Farm Bureau