Bob Stallman: Meaningful dialogue about food key to bridging gap
According to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Census of Agriculture, less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is directly involved in production agriculture.
Food security is a top priority for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), but raising enough to feed a growing population is becoming increasingly difficult. In the face of animal and environmental activists, increased government regulations, consumer misconceptions and escalating input costs, farmers and ranchers certainly have hurdles to jump.
Bob Stallman, AFBF president, recently addressed Nebraskans on some of these issues during the state’s annual convention in Kearney, NE, in early December.
“AFBF wants to see this country get back on track fiscally,” Stallman said in regard to the state of the U.S. economy. “We need to get control of our nation’s debt. Unfortunately, budget cuts impact agriculture. Looking at the farm bill, we are going to take significant cuts. The legislative arena is a constant fight. AFBF works hard in the regulatory process to help avoid burdensome regulations on farmers and ranchers. Another place we struggle is in the courthouse. The EPA loves to fight agriculture through litigation and regulation. The EPA cuts corners and doesn’t allow ample time for public comments. What keeps me awake at night is excessive regulation and not being able to do our jobs properly.”
Another challenge has been the discussion on the proposed child labor laws.
“This is the most idiotic piece of legislation I have seen in a long time,” Stallman said. “I started working on our farm at the age of eight, and it taught me to be responsible and work hard. Looking at the rule, it appears most farm kids will be able to work, but the new rule would limit those who have farms that are owned in partnerships. This regulation is ridiculous, and it has been written by folks who have certain views of who we are in agriculture. They get promoted simply by writing lots of regulations.”
The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), which recently earned a “D” grade by CharityWatch was another topic of discussion in Stallman’s speech.
“I commend the Nebraska Governor for telling HSUS to bring it on,” said Stallman. “Not every state has this atmosphere, and you should be proud for being ready to take on this battle. We’re facing challenges with the expectations of society. And, the studies commissioned by [U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, USFRA] show that consumers want to be talked with and not at.”
Stallman then drove home the main message of his presentation, “Let’s start having a meaningful dialogue about food. We need to do a better job of sharing our story. There have been a lot of fragmented efforts, but we need to do more. That’s why a group of us got together and said we need to work harder to move the needle on public perception. The reason we haven’t been successful in the past is because we haven’t had real conversations with our consumers. We have just told them what we think they need to know.”
His advice was to use social media to continue the dialogue.
“USFRA isn’t confrontational; we have learned not to get involved in combat online,” Stallman said. “We simply need to spark up conversations and show folks who we are as farmers and ranchers.”
While there are many challenges to tackle, Stallman told the audience that the future of agriculture looks brights.
“Many state Farm Bureaus have asked me to come speak and to be motivational and inspirational. Then they ask me what’s going on in D.C.,” he said. “You’re never supposed to say things are good in agriculture but as an aggregate, things are good. Trade numbers are increasing, exports are good; but we have record-high expenses and things will change. In 2019, the AFBF will be 100 years old. What do we want to be in the next 100 years? We need to identify the future leaders of this organization, and we are looking for input on the direction of this organization from our members. Stay tuned for the awesome things to come.”
Regulation, litigation, legislation, consumer misconceptions and environmental and animal rights activists certainly create an interesting environment for farmers and ranchers to work in.
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