Zippy Duvall, the Georgia farmer elected president of the American Farm Bureau Federation earlier this year, addressed the crowd at the Illinois Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs Conference and shared his priorities, while challenging the crowd to consider their advisors – and their influence.
Duvall told how his phone rang three days after his election to the AFBF presidency. It was Ben Carson, Republican presidential candidate, congratulating him on his election. The next day, he got a call from Donald Trump’s team, asking if he had time to talk with Trump. Duvall spent 10 minutes talking with Trump and laughed, saying, “I got to talk for about 30 seconds of that time!”
But his point was real: AFBF carries weight in Washington, D.C.
“These were two candidates running for the most powerful seat in the world, and they recognized that your organization had a new leader,” Duvall said. “That should make you proud!”
Duvall shared his priorities at AFBF, which continue to be to unify their voice, and to unify agriculture’s voice. “When we talk about the next farm bill, we need to be united first - not just within Farm Bureau but across the whole industry,” he said.
Further priorities include regulation reform, which could impact bottom line in a tight farm economy. Duvall pledged to continue fighting the Waters of the U.S. move, or WOTUS, noting what he called EPA’s attempt to effectively become a “local zoning board.”
Duvall said they were on the steps of the Supreme Court, waiting to be heard on the Chesapeake Bay case, when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February. “We went from a 70% chance of being heard and a 60% chance of winning, to not even being heard,” he lamented, but added their legal advisers are looking for a new case.
“The clean air and water act is an invasion of our private property rights and I am sick and tired of it, and I know you are,” he told the crowd, to applause.
He challenged the crowd to think about regulations and costs and rewards. “Are the costs worth what the rewards are?” Duvall asked. “If you look at endangered species, clean water and clean air acts, and what we have to spend on it, I say you won’t find a reward that’s better that what it costs. If we’re going to have a regulation, let’s at least have an economic study and see what it’s going to cost us.”
Duvall also promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, saying there are $4.4 billion dollars of farm gate income at stake - $282 million just in the state of Illinois. “I know it’s a protein trade bill, but we’ve gotta feed that protein before it leaves here,” he added.
Finally, Duvall hit on consumer education, the Food Safety and Security Modernization Act and public opinion.
“As an organization, we have to understand that we have not a challenge – we have an opportunity. People want to know how their food is grown. We don’t have anything to hide. Most of the people, given the opportunity to talk to you and see you living on the land and drinking the water, they come to the reality that all that garbage they read on Facebook and the internet must not be true. But they won’t seek us out. We have to go to them,” he shared.
Duvall urged farmers to support the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, work with media and reach out to people in their communities. “If we stick our heads in the sand and ignore this, we will lose,” he concluded.