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Zippy Duvall standing by banner or balloons celebrating 100th annual convention of AFBF AFBF photo

Trade with Europe, women in ag discussed at AFBF annual convention

UW-Madison professor John Shutske also offers tips on handling long-term stress.

American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th annual convention wraps up Wednesday, Jan. 16, in New Orleans.

The convention included a speech by President Trump and discussions on opioid use and immigrant farm labor. Here’s a sampling of what convention-goers listened to on Monday, Jan. 14.

Trade with Europe

There continues to be abundant opportunities for farm trade between the United States and the European Union despite the omission of agriculture in the European list of negotiating areas on a potential free trade agreement, European agricultural leaders said.

U.S. farmers and farm state lawmakers have pushed hard to include agriculture in trade talks. But European officials excluded farm goods to streamline the negotiations and to concentrate on vehicles and industrial products, said Jesus Zorrilla, counselor on Agriculture for the European Union.

Zorrilla was joined by Lorenzo Terzi, counselor on food safety for the European Union, and Sylvain Maestracci, counselor on agriculture for the French Embassy, to provide a European perspective on trade and agriculture.

Key issues, such as geographic indicators for dairy products and the approval of genetically modified crops, still separate the United States and the EU. But the European leaders said there continues to be opportunities for U.S. products in Europe, including soybeans, biofuels and other products even without agriculture in the free trade negotiations.

“The perception that the European market is closed is misleading,” Terzi said. “We are a huge market of 500 million people that is a big importer of food.”

Terzi noted that the United States and Europe have recently worked through several key food safety issues on products such as almonds and Florida oranges.

European farmers share many of the same concerns as their American counterparts, such as low commodity prices, changing demand from consumers and an aging farm population, Maestracci said. In addition, he said. European farmers face a continued barrage of environmental demands from European consumers.

Like their American counterparts, European farmers have seen a reduction in farm subsidy payments and a more market-oriented farm program. But European farmers do not have a crop insurance system like the one which provides the backbone of the farm safety net in the United States, Maestracci said.

Rebuild Rural America

The Rebuild Rural Coalition, of which AFBF is a member, zeroes in on eight priorities for rural America – ag research, broadband, energy, financing, healthcare, transportation, housing and drinking water.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, highlighted a list of “10 most wanted” infrastructure projects. This includes dredging the lower Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Gulf of Mexico to a depth of 50 feet. Doing so will allow ships to carry heavier loads in addition to attracting large vessels. This enhancement to the supply chain would return $461 million to U.S. soybean farmers.

“The federal government needs to be better with stewardship of funds” for infrastructure projects, Steenhoek said. Considering the “how” of funding should also be given more attention, he asserted. The current method of funding very expensive, multi-year projects is a “recipe for cost overruns,” he said.

Managing farm stress

John Shutske, professor and Extension agricultural safety and health specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, encouraged farmers to implement strategies to handle pressure to minimize the impact of stress.

“Stress impacts farmers mentally and physically and it comes in many formats,” said Shutske, who has worked with farmers on stress management for more than 30 years. “A lot of time when we talk about stress we focus on short-term impact, but we need to also look at long-term stress.”

Shutske explained the cycle of stress and the impact it has on the human brain. Normal stress isn’t concerning, it’s the long-term chronic stress that is most worrisome, he said. With depressed commodity prices this is especially relevant for today’s farmers.

“If you have constant levels of high stress your brain receptors physically begin to wear out,” said Shutske. “If your brain is constantly fueling stress hormones, it can lead to serious problems.”

Not only can stress impact blood pressure and anxiety, it can also severely impact relationships.

“Long-term stress can also impact opioid and alcohol misuse and we know from research that farmers have a higher rate of suicide,” said Shutske.

Shutske encouraged farmers to focus on the things they can control in their businesses and relationships, rather than things they can’t. He suggested proactively managing stress with these tips:

  • Plan – Look ahead to the coming weeks and plan out what you can. This includes setting time aside for family and hobbies.
  • Set Goals – Goal setting can help you stay focused on what needs to get done. Set goals that are specific, measurable, action-orientated, realistic and time-specific.
  • Write things down – Writing things down helps you mentally prepare for the tasks on your to-do list. Typing on a device doesn’t always have the same impact.
  • Health – Maintaining overall health is important to moderate stress levels. Don’t under-estimate the importance of visiting your family practitioner and openly discussing mental health.
  • Fuel – With the brain using 25% of the body’s energy, eating a balanced diet must be a priority to manage stress. Watching caffeine and sugar intake is equally important.
  • Exercise – Staying active regularly can help balance stress levels.
  • Relaxation – It’s important to take time to reflect or meditate. Taking time to relax and reflect is important to moderating stress levels.

Women in agriculture

Today, women comprise 31% of all U.S. farmers and ranchers, run 14% of all U.S. farms and ranches, and own 30% of all farmland in the country, said Jeanne Bernick, principal and market strategist with KCoe Isom. Forty-four percent of FFA students are girls.

“Yet women are still less than 10% of senior executives at major agribusiness companies,” Bernick said.

She helps families transition businesses between generations. She has worked with many daughters, nieces, and sisters-in-laws who are returning to the farm and are interested in management roles.

Having a plan is an effective way to maximize a woman’s success in a leadership role.

“It works well for women in managing a family business when they run from a plan rather than off the cuff,” said Bernick. “Map out a one-year plan, a five-year plan. Once they have a plan, women are incredibly focused. This makes them incredible leaders.”

Women are also more inclined to continue learning on the job, proactively seeking knowledge in books, trainings, online classes and support groups.

Women in leadership roles make great mentors; they’re interested in paying it forward.

“Women supporting other women is really important. They’re really community-based. When we feel like we have a community we can be a part of, we blossom,” she said.

Source: AFBF, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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