American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said 2018 was a “terrible” year for nearly every aspect of American agriculture - save for the policy priorities of the organization he leads.
“Farms across America have experienced a perfect storm this year," Duvall told the crowd of about 7,000 farmers and ranchers at the group's annual meeting in New Orleans. But for Farm Bureau’s lobbying efforts, last year “will go down in American Farm Bureau History as one of the most productive agricultural policy years in our history.”
Duvall hailed tax reform, farm bill passage, regulatory reform and finalization of trade talks to update the North American Free Trade Agreement as areas where the organization had a good year. But lingering disputes with China and a host of other continuing setbacks for farm country remain on his mind as the nation's largest farm organization launches into its centennial year.
“The trade war in China is going to be a long one,” Duvall cautioned. He said Farm Bureau plans to remain supportive of President Donald Trump’s efforts to improve trade relations with China, but will encourage involvement with other trading partners to strengthen the U.S. negotiating position.
“The runway of our patience is going to be determined by the financial situations on our farms” he added. “We went into this battle very weak. So we’re going to hang with him, we’re going to encourage him to get a fast solution.”
On the regulatory front, Duvall said Farm Bureau planned to watch for action from the administration to allow summer E15 sales and work toward a permanent exemption for livestock haulers from Electronic Logging Device requirements. But true to the organization’s messaging in recent years, no regulation has more of Farm Bureau’s attention than a rewrite of the Waters of the U.S. rule released by the EPA in December.
Duvall praised the new proposal as one that could be interpreted from the seat of a pickup truck rather than through the interpretation of legal experts. He encouraged a hefty dose of member involvement in the rule’s comment period, because he said environmental groups will oppose it.
“They’re going to come out in force to try to defeat this new rule and try to get it withdrawn,” Duvall said.
Duvall was echoed by Senate Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts, who also spoke at the convention and urged Farm Bureau members to provide their WOTUS feedback.
Duvall wrapped up his comments by highlighting planned pushes on research, infrastructure, and farm labor. President Donald Trump is set to join Farm Bureau members in New Orleans on Monday as the government shutdown rolls into its fourth week with immigration and border security policy at the heart of the debate. Duvall said the fiery political climate can’t keep Farm Bureau from trying to address the issue.
“With all this discussion about a wall and all this discussion about immigration reform, we’re going to try to seize the moment,” he said. “If anything moves and we get a positive pathway, we’ve got to solve the biggest problem that faces America’s farmers, and that’s farm labor.”
After his remarks, Duvall told reporters he plans to address the shutdown with President Trump and drive home the impact the stalemate is having on rural America, a voter base that has largely been supportive of the president.
“Even though he’s not directly trying to hurt our farmers, this shutdown is going to hurt our farmers,” he said. “We need to get (USDA) offices opened up and do it in a fast way.”
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