USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed the American Farm Bureau convention closing general session in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 22, where he announced that more than $200 million in loans and grants for fertilizer production and renewable energy are being made available to the ag industry this year.
In a recap of the day’s events, the AFBF noted that Monday also included a great slate of workshops, the convention’s keynote speech from Greg Harden and several awards presentations.
Running from Jan. 19-24, this convention was the AFBF’s 105 annual.
During his address, Secretary Vilsack said, “I think it’s important for us to recognize as a country the incredible contribution made by farmers and ranchers and producers that makes our country the strongest and most powerful in the world.” Secretary Vilsack also spoke on conservation, consolidation and loss of farmland.
In addition to general session programming, eight workshops were offered.
Representatives from all four corners of the Agriculture committees discussed the challenges and opportunities in drafting and passing a new farm bill. They gathered for the “Farm Bill Update” workshop.
One of the toughest issues facing lawmakers is how to fund the farm bill. “There is no new money,” said Parish Braden, the House Committee on Agriculture staff director. “We’re at a time of fiscal restraint.”
The panel also recognized the importance of passing a farm bill promptly. Mike Schmidt, senior advisor for Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, said, “We think there is a path for it. Time is running short, but there is a path for it.”
In a release on Monday afternoon, the AFBF said, “Farm Bureau’s advocacy extends to the courts. The ‘Farm Bureau and the Courts’ workshop updated attendees on AFBF’s efforts in several important cases, including California’s Proposition 12, WOTUS, and Sackett v. EPA.”
During the workshop titled “Intersection Between Farmers & Companies Within the Supply Chain,” representatives from downstream in the food chain shared how they work with farmers as partners in their sustainability efforts, such as carbon sequestration.
Hans Specht, manager of global agriculture at Kraft Heinz, Mallory Flanders, regional sustainability specialist at Cargill, and Tara Vander Dussen, co-host of the Discover Ag podcast and a New Mexico dairy farmer, encouraged farmers to share their stories of the sustainability practices already in place on their farms.
“We have to get the messaging out to consumers that regenerative agriculture is a spectrum,” Vander Dussen explained. “Every year, maybe you’re doing something that’s a little bit better than before and then you’re partnering with a Cargill or a Heinz to learn how to be even better, so sustainability isn’t a ‘yes or no’ conversation.”
Barn Owl Precision Ag, a startup from Colorado that manufactures a fully autonomous robot that supports farmers as they plant crops, control weeds, and collect soil samples, was named the 2024 Ag Innovation Challenge winner, while Udder Ways from New York was named runner-up. Barn Owl will receive $50,000 in prize money sponsored in part by Farm Credit, Bayer Crop Science, John Deere, Farm Bureau Bank, and Farm Bureau Financial Services.
Secret Garden Bees, an Ag Innovation Challenge semi-finalist, won the People’s Choice Award, decided by public vote, and received $5,000 in additional prize money.
Winners of the Young Farmers & Ranchers Achievement Award, Discussion Meet, and Excellence in Agriculture competitions were announced. Daniel and Megan Roberts of Minnesota won the Achievement Award, Matthew McClanahan of Tennessee won the Discussion Meet, and Justin Hargrove of Tennessee won the Excellence in Agriculture Award.
Also during the convention, members of the AFBF YF&R Committee elected a new executive team. Kevin Lussier of Florida will be the committee’s chair for 2024, taking over the position in March at the end of the YF&R Conference, and will serve for one year. He will also serve a one-year term on the AFBF board of directors.
Clarissa Cauthorn of Missouri was elected vice chair and Haily Sand of Wisconsin was elected secretary. They will each serve one-year terms.
All live-streamed convention content, including President Duvall’s keynote address and Cultivation Center Stage programming, will be available on YouTube.