With another case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy detected in Canada, delegates at the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting expressed concern about the process of reopening U.S. borders to beef imports. However, the delegates just as clearly called on the U.S. government to use "sound science as a basis for reopening markets to ensure continued consumer confidence.
"Our fundamental position is that border closings and openings need to be based on sound science, and the science needs to be implemented properly," says AFBF President Bob Stallman. "We want to ensure that things are being done right in terms of animal health and food safety. And we will work with USDA to ensure that a return to normalized trade with Canada will proceed in an orderly manner."
Due to the impact on markets resulting from inconclusive BSE screening tests, delegates approved a policy urging the Agriculture Department to report BSE results only after completion of the so-called "gold standard" test.
Farm policy hot issues
On the issue of national farm policy, the delegates' message was clear: Stay the course. They continued AFBF's opposition to any reopening of the 2002 farm bill.
"We want to maintain the structure and funding of the current farm bill," says Stallman. "Agriculture is strategically important to the nation, and it should be treated as such."
Delegates also voted to support voluntary country-of-origin labeling for livestock products, but mandatory country-of-origin labeling for other farm and food products.
"The rationale is that while we are making progress to implement a comprehensive animal identification system at the national level, the ability to carry out a voluntary labeling program will naturally follow from that process," says Stallman.
Crop insurance programs
The delegates also discussed the effectiveness of the federal crop insurance program. Most importantly, they approved a resolution that farmers should not need a crop insurance policy in order to be eligible for ad hoc disaster assistance. The last two agricultural disaster bills passed in Congress required producers to have policies in order to qualify for the assistance in those bills.
In addition, the delegates approved a number of changes that they believe will make the crop insurance program work better for more crops in more regions of the country.
AFBF has long supported immigration reform to make it easier for farmers to find legal, affordable laborers. However, the delegates moved toward multi-sector reform rather than a special program for agriculture. Under the new policy, AFBF would support omnibus immigration reform that affects multiple industries. The delegates also opposed giving amnesty to illegal aliens.
"I think our delegates spoke clearly on immigration policy," says Stallman. "In essence, what the policy says now is that we still support the AgJOBS bill, but we will be looking at several other pieces of legislation."
Comprehensive energy bill
The delegates reaffirmed AFBF's support for comprehensive energy reform.
"Our delegates know what they want in regard to a comprehensive national energy policy," says Stallman. "Now it is just a matter of going to work to get it done."
Delegates also expressed opposition to allowing any Farm Credit System member institution to exit the system, with the goal of providing stability and more credit options than currently available. A resolution was also approved that calls for "immediate normalization" of trade with and travel to Cuba.
In other convention news, three new state Farm Bureau presidents were elected to the AFBF board of directors: Kevin Rogers, Arizona, representing the Western Region; and Alex Dowse, Massachusetts, and Buddy Hance, Maryland, representing the Northeast region, are new to the board.
Re-elected to the board were:
Midwest Region — Craig Lang, Iowa; Keith Olsen, Nebraska; Bob Peterson, Ohio; and Don Villwock, Indiana.
Southern Region — Ronnie Anderson, Louisiana; Flavius Barker, Tennessee; Kenneth Dierschke, Texas; Wayne Dollar, Georgia; Steve Kouplen, Oklahoma; and Larry Wooten, North Carolina.
Northeast Region — Charles Wilfong, West Virginia.
Western Region — Alan Foutz, Colorado; and Bill Pauli, California.
Ben Boyd of Sylvania, Ga., became the new chair of the AFBF Young Farmer and Rancher Committee. In this position, he will also serve on the AFBF board of directors.
Angela Ryden of Colorado was newly elected to the AFB Women's Committee. Re-elected were Beverly Delmedico, Oklahoma; Alyce Block, Connecticut; and Helen Norris, Kansas. Terry Gilbert, Kentucky, continues as the chair. The newly elected vice chair is Sherry Saylor, Arizona.