Monday, January 11, 2010

Farm Bureau's Stallman Puts Activists on notice: No More Mr. Nice Guy

In a hard-hitting speech, the Texan signals that farmers and ranchers have had enough of those who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule

By Sara Wyant

The farmers and ranchers I know are fiercely independent individuals who are willing to do whatever it takes to take care of their families, their animals and their land. But that doesn’t mean they go looking for fights.

In fact, most of them face so many everyday challenges, like bone-chilling weather and tough economic conditions, that they would just like to stay out of the limelight and live in peace.

But there are a growing number of these battle-scarred men and women who have had enough of the attacks from the growing list of critics, environmental groups and even some of their own elected officials. They have had a long couple of years listening to the Michael Pollans of the world, reading incredibly biased coverage in Time magazine and watching pseudo-documentaries like Food Inc.

You can almost hear them say, “Enough Already!” They are mad as hell and they don’t want to take it any more.

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman captured that sentiment in his powerful opening speech during the organization’s 91st annual convention in Seattle this week. Stallman, who was elected as the national organization's 11th president in 2000, delivered the most hard-hitting speech I have ever heard him give, and for many of the 4,500 in the audience, it was his best.

It’s been a long time since we have had farm leaders inspire audiences with messages like Mary Elizabeth Lease used to deliver in the late 1800’s, when she reportedly told farmers to “raise less corn and more hell”

Some farmers still remember when the charismatic Oren Lee Staley fired up members of the National Farmers Organization in the early 1960's to fight food processors for higher prices, telling them: "American farmers have retreated as far as they can. We do not intend to retreat any further."

Clearly, there’s been a void in the number of top leaders, both from the public and private sector, who are willing to use the bully pulpit to stand up for American agriculture in more recent years. Stallman indicated that he is ready to take off the gloves and lead the fight. His audience loved it.

(See: “AFBF President calls on farmers and ranchers to unite, fight extremists”

It’s not that the Farm Bureau is unwilling to engage divergent interests. As Stallman stood before his convention attendees, an estimated 4,500 farmers and ranchers from all across America, he pointed out:

“As I scan this hall, I see farmers who embrace all the tools of modern agriculture. I see people who choose modern organic production…I see folks who plant conventional seed and those who use biotechnology. I see families who raise livestock in sheltered, climate-controlled conditions. I see feedlot operators. But also among our ranks here in Seattle, I see farm and ranch families who produce grass-fed beef, free-range pork and cage-free eggs.”

And AFBF is actively working with several environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, and The Nature Conservancy on Field to Market: The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.

But enough of that “Mr. Nice Guy” stuff.

“A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule,” said Stallman. “The time has come to face our opponents with a new attitude. The days of their elitist power grabs are over.”

Consider yourself warned.

Agriculture News, Farm Policy, and Rural Policy


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