Zippy Duvall, president, American Farm Bureau Federation.
Zippy Duvall, president, American Farm Bureau Federation.

Welcome to “Beyond the Fencerows,” the new monthly column by AFBF President Zippy Duvall. This column is just a snapshot of the ongoing conversation President Duvall is eager to have with Farm Bureau members from across the country on the pressing issues facing agriculture. Just as President Duvall’s father encouraged him years ago to step outside his fencerows to make a difference in the policies affecting his farm, President Duvall invites you to make your voices heard to protect the business of farming for generations to come.

When I attended my first county Farm Bureau meeting back in 1977, I never imagined that I’d have the privilege to serve as your president one day. My Farm Bureau journey is truly a testament to how this organization invests in young people and gives farmers and ranchers the tools we need to protect our livelihood. One of the greatest joys of Farm Bureau leadership for me has been getting the chance to give back and pass on what I have learned to the next generation.

It has certainly been a whirlwind since we all met in Orlando, but there’s no time to waste in keeping up the important work of our great organization. I’ve enjoyed meeting with many of you over the last few months, and look forward to getting out to visit more of our members across the country to hear directly from you about the issues you are facing on your farms and ranches. I’m eager to bring your stories to Capitol Hill and represent U.S. agriculture there, but I’m not the only one our lawmakers want to hear from.

The fact is: Farmers and ranchers need to be the ones telling our story or someone else will. We each have been given a voice, but it’s our responsibility to speak up and use it. That’s what my father taught me when I was a young farmer just starting out and complaining about regulations and milk prices. “You’re not going to solve those problems inside your fencerows,” he said. “You’ve got to get outside your fencerows.” My dad encouraged me to attend my first county Farm Bureau meeting, and with the journey that followed, I got a lot farther outside my fencerows than I ever expected. But I have learned over and over again that what my dad said was right: We can’t solve the problems facing agriculture if we’re not willing to step outside our comfort zone.

I am proud of the thousands of Farm Bureau members who are investing their time in this important work. Last year alone, 2,415 Farm Bureau members from across the country took their messages straight to Capitol Hill and met with lawmakers to tackle the issues facing agriculture. Our state and national staff work tirelessly fighting for you, but representatives want and need to hear from the people in their home districts.

We also need to get out there and share our stories with consumers. People don’t trust what they don’t know. And they don’t trust agriculture because they don’t understand it. Most Americans have never been to a farm and didn’t even grow up near one, but they are ready to learn more about where their food comes from. We need to open up the lines of communication. We need to connect through our shared values, explain how we take care of our land and animals, and tell people about the important steps we take to ensure our food supply is safe.

And there’s one other thing consumers need to hear about: How unjust regulation is making our lives so difficult. We know many of our members are afraid to speak openly about their battles with the EPA, Army Corps and others. We also know the media can be our ally in these struggles – if only we speak up and let journalists tell our story in the first place.

Being an advocate for agriculture is not an easy job, but thankfully farmers are used to hard work. And more than that, we’re not afraid of a challenge. Step outside your fencerows. We must be faithful with our opportunities today if we want to preserve our freedoms for tomorrow.