by Neil Melancon, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation
As the American Farm Bureau annual convention begins this week in Phoenix, Arizona, a delegation of more than 75 from Louisiana is getting ready to represent the state in competitions, policy forums, and grassroots efforts that will shape the future of agriculture.
After a tough year in farming in Louisiana from weather-related disasters and low commodity prices, many in Louisiana are looking to see how 2017 will treat them. Marty Wooldridge, a cattle farmer in Caddo Parish and a member of the delegation, said a key component of that is the election results from November.
“What I’m really going for is this year policy discussion,” Wooldridge said. “I want to hear what people are feeling about what the future holds with this new Administration. We’re seeing some pretty dismal numbers in agriculture right now with farmers going broke or belly up. When will they break even?
“So, it’s always good to catch up and see how farmers from other parts of the country are doing,” he continued. “Really be with people and see how the policies we put forth as an organization and what the government does affect agriculture.”
AFBF is a grassroots organization and the annual convention is when it hears from voting delegates on what they want both from Farm Bureau and the government. Louisiana Farm Bureau President Ronnie Anderson, who serves on the AFBF board, said it is a critical time for agriculture policy in the U.S.
“We’re coming off of a bad year and right now, we’re not seeing a big lift in prices for farm commodities,” Anderson said. “This year, we have a new administration, so we’re hopeful that they can give us a break on some of the onerous regulations we have to contend with, at least.”
Anderson said while the next Farm Bill is still two years away, it’s is on the minds of many going into this convention.
“The planning and shaping of that bill starts now,” he said. “I think we have a good Congressional delegation from Louisiana that is responsive to the needs of agriculture. However, educating the rest of Congress and the new Administration of our issues, especially on a bill that will last five or six years at least, is something we have to work on right now.
Policy issues aside, there’s a lot of fun for the delegation as well. Young Farmer and Rancher competitions on Saturday, FRED (Farmer and Rancher Education) talks and the IDEA expo are events that many in the delegation look forward to.
Katie Sistrunk of East Baton Rouge Parish is competing in the national Discussion Meet after winning the state competition in June. She’s bringing her daughter, Piper, who at 14 months is the Louisiana delegation’s youngest member.
“I’m a little nervous about the competition,” Sistrunk said. “I think I’ve been involved enough in my preparation for this to hold my own in the conversation. There’s some really good topics this year, so it should be fun.”
Sistrunk said in addition to the competition, she’s looking forward to catching up with some friends she met through an AFBF program.
“I can’t wait to see my other Boot Camp alumni,” she said, referring to a Farm Bureau women’s leadership initiative. “I look forward to seeing all the ladies went to Boot Camp with, some of whom I haven’t seen since I went 6 or 7 years ago.”
Many of the events at this year’s convention will be available online for those who cannot attend. For a complete list of events and schedules, you can visit the convention site at http://annualconvention.fb.org.