You made it! Today is the fifth and final interview post with the four candidates running for president of the American Farm Bureau. The 97th Annual Convention officially kicks off today in Orlando, Florida, and many Montana Farm Bureau members are traveling to attend the workshops, seminars, and festivities.

To bring the interviews to a close, we asked the candidates to address what they see as the number one issue facing the American Farm Bureau.

Zippy Duvall, Georgia Farm Bureau

This is another question that has come as I traveled the country campaigning. I can make a list, but many times I come back to engagement of our members. We are only as strong as our state can effectively communicate for a common cause.

It comes back to all politics are local. We have all heard a thousand times or more. All politics are local. I found this to be true in my career. We must engage at all levels of Farm Bureau. We as farmers and ranchers have many reasons why we do not have time and learning to balance time is not easy. The strength of Farm Bureau is local leaders willing to engage in the process. If we the farmer and rancher do not stay involved and participate in the process, our industry will lose its strength.

As American Farm Bureau President, it will be my job to capitalize on that strength and provide a collective voice for those local members. It is critical that we maintain efficient and effective communication streams between our farmers and ranchers, state farm bureaus, and AFBF. Many issues affect our members differently across the nation, and it’s important to communicate to our federal representatives what is happening back home while positioning our collective business as an industry leader.

Kevin Rogers, Arizona Farm Bureau

Advocacy for American production agriculture must be our number one priority. If we are to continue to feed this nation, we must bring the public along with us in the technology we might use. Without the public understanding what we do and why, they could have the ability to shut us down.

Products we have used for years like BT or Roundup ready crops, antibiotics for our livestock, are tools that must be kept in our tool boxes as we move forward. We must marry up issue advocacy and public outreach through traditional member involvement but also through technology.

I believe this opportunity to be the next president of the American Farm Bureau gives me the ability to be the national advocate for our industry and I am so honored to be under consideration. But we all have a role to play in this challenge and we must be willing to raise our hands and help in this task.

Don Villwock, Indiana Farm Bureau

I think it has to be our communications efforts with our members and the consumer. I think it is the lack of understanding by the non-agriculture community regarding the many challenges we face on our farms and ranches and the practices and technology we use to produce their food, fiber, feed, and fuel.

Without this understanding by consumers and elected officials we cannot stop the over-regulation by government entities which will continue to increase our costs and decrease our production. We must embrace choice and bring all sectors of the agriculture community together.

In order to feed the 9 billion people that will populate the earth by 2050, using fewer resources of land and water, it will take every tool and every production option to meet the nutritional needs of all God’s children. Keeping our unwritten license with society to do what we do best, will be our biggest challenge in the future. I think it’s time all of us in agriculture pull together to move forward. I’ve heard it all across the country during my campaign; our members want to go on the offense. They are tired of being abused in the media and on the internet by false accusations. They want our positive story to be told and they want to be proactive rather than being reactive.

I want to be their spokesperson and quarterback a Farm Bureau team that shares our great story. Consumers need to know how farmers and ranchers protect and improve their soil and water resources and how livestock producers care for their animal’s health and well-being, while leaving private and public lands better than when the government had control. Consumers need to know that farmers and ranchers need to make a profit if we are to maintain, protect and improve our natural resources. I want to communicate that providing a safe, abundant and affordable food supply for the US and the world is a farmer and rancher’s daily mission.

Our local FB members are our greatest asset and AFBF must help the states and counties in any way possible to attract and energize members at the local level. Farmers and ranchers must have a strong voice in agriculture policy discussions. Farm Bureau’s grassroots structure depends on producers being vocal and introducing policies at all levels: local, state and national.
Every paragraph in our policy book originated from an individual voicing their concerns and persuading a majority of their peers to vote for that resolution. But it is even more important for those members to communicate our policies to their elected or appointed officials, through a personal conversation, a letter, e-mail, or by social media, they can be the most effective advocates for getting positive change enacted.

I think it is critical for AFBF to educate and empower our members so they feel comfortable telling their agriculture story. We must be successful in this communication effort and I want to help lead the charge.

Barry Bushue, Oregon Farm Bureau

Aside from the obvious regulatory challenges, we must continue to improve our effectiveness. We cannot afford to become complacent.

The issues continue to mount and our ability to deal with them must always be ahead of the curve. Our future relies on strong affiliations with our state Farm Bureaus, our financial security, continued strong legal advocacy, the engagement of our farmer and rancher members and more effective communications with a consumer public far removed from agriculture.

They like farmers but don’t trust agriculture. We have to bridge that gap.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series of interviews. Stay tuned for more updates from the 97th Annual AFBF Convention; including which candidate is named the 12th President of the American Farm Bureau Federation.