San Juan, Puerto Rico—Montana Farm Bureau members recently attended the American Farm Bureau Convention January 6-11 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Forty-six members had the opportunity to expand their knowledge on agricultural issues, hear nationally acclaimed speakers and attend educational tours ranging from history to agricultural production.

MFBF Vice President Gary Heibertshausen served as a voting delegate during the Annual Meeting of Voting Delegates. “When you’re sitting in the delegate session, you see familiar faces and new faces from the different states. You feel proud when you see the Montana resolutions that have made it to the floor,” said the Alzada sheep producer. “Being involved in the delegate session on a national level really broadens your horizons and provides a better understanding of how the entire process works. You discuss points of view you might not have recognized. I feel that being involved in the American Farm Bureau delegate session is as good as it gets for our grassroots organization.”

Heiberthausen followed the Member Engagement track, with one workshop standing out: Talking About Farm Bureau. “Attendees broke into two groups, sharing ideas about talking to people who don’t know what Farm Bureau is, that we’re the largest non-profit agricultural membership organization. It’s crucial for members who believe in Farm Bureau to learn how to talk to others,” Heibertshausen said.

Saturday of the AFBF Convention was dedicated to the Young Farmer and Rancher competitive events including the Discussion Meet, Achievement Award and Excellence Award. This was the first year that Nick Courville attended the national convention. Courville, a Charlo cattle rancher, was elected as the Montana Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher Committee Chair in November. He and his wife, Randi, watched Montana contestant Mark Boyd compete in the first round of the Discussion Meet, and Courville served as a timekeeper for the second Discussion Meet round. Visiting with other young farmers during the events proved valuable.

“We visited with dairy, soybean and corn farmers,” said Courville. “We attended the Celebration of Grassroots Reception which featured food from different parts of the country held at the trade show on Saturday. We heard informative speakers on the Cultivation Stage including ‘Fireside Chats’ with two social media agricultural influencers who did a live podcast from the stage, and a conversation with the CEO of the Native American Agriculture Fund. Since both Randi and I grew up on the reservation, this was especially interesting.”

The couple toured the Bayer facility and a fruit farm. “The Bayer facility was very modern, focusing on soybeans and cotton. We walked through their greenhouses to learn how Bayer selects their plants,” said Courville. “The fruit farm has 330 acres with pineapples and plantains. The owners explained how they branched out into agri-tourism. We learned that the average family farm is 10-20 acres, and in Puerto Rico, you can make a living on that small acreage, especially if you incorporate agri-tourism.”

Beth Blevins, who serves on the MFBF Women’s Leadership Committee, found the messages from the general sessions to be inspiring. She said Bert Jacobs, co-founder of Life is Good®, had an excellent message about having a positive attitude no matter what life throws at you. 

“It was also inspirational to hear from Big Kenny Alphin, of the country music duo Big & Rich. He owns an 11th-generation cattle farm in Virginia, where his family still raises hay and cattle. Like Jacobs, he told at a great story about following your dreams, never giving up and helping others.”

Blevins, a large animal vet who raises Black Angus cattle, was impressed that USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke at Monday’s closing session. “He noted that although 2022 was a record income for some sectors in agriculture, more than 50 percent of farms and ranches depend on off-farm income to stay operational, which is concerning and needs to be addressed. He said the main focus for the Department of Agriculture is getting a farm bill passed this year.

“It was good to be with other farmers and ranchers facing similar challenges; getting the resources we need at this convention to be successful is a real help,” said Blevins. “Thanks to the  Puerto Rico Farm Bureau for being such a gracious host.”