American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall kicked off the organization’s annual gathering by highlighting the organization’s efforts to build relationships with a host of new officials set to serve in positions of leadership on issues critical to the organization like climate and trade policy.

The convention, being held virtually for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, typically serves as the first major farm gathering of each year and shines a light on the priorities of the nation’s largest farm organization. This year, the gathering’s focus will also include a reflection on the previous year and the efforts of the organization and broader industry to continue normal operations during the pandemic.

Perhaps the most normal operation of Farm Bureau’s policy efforts is to get to know lawmakers and government officials, a task that will be made more difficult by an administration transition taking place in the middle of a pandemic. Perhaps further complicating the matter is the transition away from the Trump administration, which was very favorable to the group’s policy agenda, to a Biden administration that might be less amenable.

In his speech to open the gathering, Duvall said those efforts are already underway.

“Let me assure you, it’s still our time,” he said in a speech recorded on his Georgia farm. “Farm Bureau has built strong, productive relationships with every administration, every Congress. And we’re already building those relationships again to continue to be the strong national voice of agriculture.”

In remarks to reporters and an address in the convention’s opening general session, Duvall focused on trade, regulatory, and climate policy as top-of-mind issues for the organization.

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On trade, he told reporters the organization wants to see the incoming Biden administration press China on their commitments under the “phase one” trade deal.

“Of course, they didn’t make it all the way this year that they promised to do, but we did set a new record high of trade with China this year and hopefully that will continue this year and they’ll meet their $40 billion worth of purchases in 2021,” he said.

With Democrats set to head up the administration and both chambers of Congress, climate legislation is widely expected to be on the agenda. Duvall said Farm Bureau wants to make sure agriculture is part of the conversation — the group is part of the recently announced Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance — and that any proposal that might is emerge is “voluntary practices that are science-based, market-based, and fair to farmers.”

Duvall also said addressing rural broadband connectivity and protecting the industry’s gains in the 2017 tax law are also top AFBF’s agenda.

The convention runs through the week and concludes with a policy session on Thursday.

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