WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2016 - Next week, delegates to the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Orlando, Florida, will choose the next leader of their organization from among four men with similar resumes and similar goals.This new president, succeeding Texan Bob Stallman who is stepping down after 16 years, will be tasked with leading the nation’s largest agricultural organization and its well-oiled ag policy shop as discussions get under way for the next farm bill. For his efforts, the incoming president will command an organization with almost 6 million member families with a budget of about $25 million and receive a base salary somewhere north of $400,000.
The winner of the election will likely be whoever is most successful at courting the votes of the 203 delegates from AFBF’s Southern region, who form the majority of the 353 voting delegates.
But what separates the men vying for the job? In December, Agri-Pulse sat down with all four candidates to learn about their backgrounds, their goals, and why they want to take the reins of Farm Bureau. So meet the candidates (listed alphabetically by last name):
Barry Bushue, Oregon
Bushue is the current AFBF vice president, a position he’s held since 2008. He’s running with the hopes of improving the organization’s grass-roots membership structure, building stronger relationships with state Farm Bureau affiliates, and continuing AFBF’s policy efforts through his style of inclusive leadership. Bushue’s farm produces flowers and vegetables that his family retails on their own, and he has served as the Oregon Farm Bureau president for 16 years.
In his own words: “I just feel a real passion for what we do. I’m an absolute believer in the value of Farm Bureau and the importance of agriculture,” Bushue said. “This opportunity came and I just really want to take advantage of it, and I hope that the skill set I have benefits as many people as Farm Bureau has benefitted me.”
Zippy Duvall, Georgia
Those in AFBF know Georgia Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall as a man of faith, be it in God or in agriculture. Like the other candidates, he has risen through ranks of Farm Bureau leadership beginning at the county level and has served as the president of Georgia Farm Bureau for nine years. He told Agri-Pulse he wants to develop a wide network of organizational relationships among Washington’s agricultural power brokers, giving the industry strength on Capitol Hill, as well as encouraging new membership through AFBF’s Young Farmer and Rancher program. Duvall, a poultry and beef producer, is the only candidate hailing from the organization’s powerful Southern region.
In his own words: “(Deciding to run) was not a difficult decision for me,” he said. “I really feel like I have the passion, the experience, the drive, and the interest to serve American farmers and ranchers across this country. I don’t care where they’re from, what hill they live on, or what community they’re in; if they’re a farmer, I want to get up every morning and go to work for them.”
Kevin Rogers, Arizona
Rogers, who has served as president of the Arizona Farm Bureau for 12 years, has a deep connection to the Young Farmer and Rancher program, crediting it with getting him involved in AFBF as a beginning producer. Rogers and his family grow a variety of commodities, including cotton, and he recently finished a stint on the board of the National Cotton Council, which could help him lure Southern votes. His campaign centers around promoting agriculture domestically and internationally as well as reaching out to the younger generation of Farm Bureau members.
In his own words: “It seems like we get hit first out of the desert Southwest with issues,” Rogers said, specifically mentioning air quality and issues with animal rights groups. “I think the diversity of crops and issues that Arizona faces has helped prepare me for the opportunity to run, and I think having a good grasp of those issues would help me serve the American Farm Bureau.”
Don Villwock, Indiana
Villwock recently retired after 13 years as president of Indiana Farm Bureau, but decided to run for the national presidency when encouraged by a group of Southern Farm Bureau presidents. His supporters cite his extensive experience with all sides of Farm Bureau – including insurance and policy – as well as his time working in USDA’s Farm Service Agency, where he served as Indiana state executive director from 1989-1993. He’s been farming in Indiana for more than 40 years. Now, he’s looking to stand up for agriculture on a national level.
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