Just days after President Donald Trump told Farm Bureau members the third tranche of the 2019 Market Facilitation Program was on its way, delegates from the 346-member voting body seemingly had a question: Why stop there?

Delegates overwhelmingly backed a continuation of the administration’s Market Facilitation Program payments to producers hit by retaliatory tariffs since the beginning of the U.S.-China trade war. Those payments were part of a broader trade mitigation package that also included international trade promotion funding and surplus commodity purchases for donation to U.S. food banks.

In a series of votes, AFBF delegates rejected the idea of stripping the policy suggested by AFBF’s resolutions committee — made up of state presidents charged with sifting through policies suggested by state associations — prior to the delegate session. The language was then tweaked to allow for prevented planting acres to be “included as planted acres” under MFP. A pair of amendments to add language on when AFBF’s MFP support would expire were defeated overwhelmingly. Members expressed concern over just how to determine the finality of the trade war in their debate against such amendments.

“I think it’s wonderful we have an agreement, but let’s see what China really does before we declare victory,” Connecticut Farm Bureau president Don Tuller said during the organization's 101st annual meeting in Austin, Texas.

Several speakers expressed concern that including the language in their policy book would run counter to mantra of Farm Bureau — and American agriculture more broadly — that they want “trade, not aid.” Those speaking in favor of MFP support said they expect better days to come, but don’t want to lose the program before that happens.

“I tried on some of those fancy Texas boots, because I really think we have some good days on the horizon. But it became abundantly clear as I was trying on those fancy boots that I had holes in my socks,” Georgia Farm Bureau member Ben Boyd said during the debate. “And even though I really feel like agriculture and all us farmers in the room have got some ‘fancy boot days’ coming up, we’ve still got holes in our socks. And until we fix those holes, we don’t need to give away anything.”

Scott VanderWal

AFBF Vice President Scott VanderWal

AFBF Vice President Scott VanderWal said Farm Bureau members still believe in "trade not aid," but want to see recently finalized deals with China, Japan, and Canada and Mexico be fully implemented and in force before deciding they're done with the need for MFP.

"I think our members are saying 'Show us results,'" he told Agri-Pulse after the delegate session. "When we get down the road, there's nothing we would like better than to really have these agreements really kick in and show us expanded market opportunities."

On Monday, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue told AFBF members not to count on another round of the program, but also alluded to the possibility of another iteration in remarks to reporters later in the day.

“The president has demonstrated his ability to do what it takes to preserve the ag sector in this country,” Perdue said.

Delegates also looked over several changes to AFBF’s dairy policy, eventually voting to support a “flexible, farmer and industry-driven milk management system.” The group, however, also added policy opposing a mandatory federal quota system. The changes follow the formation of a task force at last year’s convention to study the issue after a debate over whether or not AFBF would back supply management language fell flat.

“We’ve always here at AFBF struggled with the dairy policy,” Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert told Agri-Pulse. “I think this brought some consensus.”

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AFBF Economist John Newton said the dairy policy changes represent just "the first step in the dialogue" and it's important that "farmers have a voice in this process and it's not just industry driven." He explained that current plans in place today are "mostly co-op initiated base plans where they manage their local supplies." Farmers can't vote independently and confidentially, he added.

Southeastern farmers were particularly interested in component-based pricing that would pay farmers for what's actually in the milk. "Those farmers in the Southeast were only getting paid for the fat, they weren't getting paid for protein," Newton added. "This is an opportunity for them to increase the value of their milk they produce by raising those components."

Other actions taken by AFBF delegates included:

  • Added language on feral hogs including a provision stating eradication of the pest is “the ultimate goal;”
  • Soundly rejected an attempt to add support for mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef;
  • Added a new section to its policy outlining AFBF’s stance on the regulation of “synthetic food production” including support for “all-encompassing names” and regulations that are “as stringent” as those that govern the production of traditional products;
  • Voted to support allowing banks to do business with entities “whose income is derived from hemp and/or legal cannabis;”
  • Added new hemp policy that supports a new 1% THC threshold for hemp (the current threshold is 0.3%) and retesting if the original sample comes in “hot;”
  • Citing growing frustration with conservation compliance practices within the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), delegates called on USDA to significantly improve program transparency and due process for farmers. They prioritized changes in USDA’s processes for wetland delineations and the appeals process and adopted a new policy supporting the repeal of Swampbuster provisions;
  • Approved a request from Illinois Farm Bureau for the AFBF board to conduct a “deep dive into the current state of NASS reporting;”
  • Moved a number of social issues — including a family unit definition that excluded LGBT couples — from its policy book to the organization’s belief statements while soundly defeating an effort to consider an amendment that would have opposed "the teaching of any alternative lifestyle."

Before adjourning, the voting delegates elected Zippy Duvall for another term as the organization’s president and Scott VanderWal for another term as vice president. VanderWal performed many of the convention functions typically done by Duvall, who was absent from the event following the Saturday passing of his wife, Bonnie. Many convention attendees wore teal wristbands in honor of Bonnie’s fight with ovarian cancer.

It will be the third consecutive two-year term for the pair of leaders atop the nation’s largest farm organization.

(Sara Wyant contributed to this report.)

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