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Farmer leaders learn from COVID impacts

Duvall Ford AFBF 2021.png
During the American Farm Bureau Federation's virtual annual meeting on Jan. 11, Land O’ Lakes President and CEO Beth Ford joined AFBF President Zippy Duvall.
AFBF President Zippy Duvall and Land O’Lakes Beth Ford share discussion on pandemic lessons, broadband and next administration.

Land O’ Lakes President and CEO Beth Ford joined American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall Monday to discuss hot topics and issues facing agriculture in the Farm Bureau’s virtual annual meeting.

“As we step into 2021, we know we are in for some bumpy times as we come out of this pandemic and we step into normal,” Ford says, adding her farmer cooperative will be looking at ways to partner with the new administration as well as lead with member and team health and focus on business partnerships.

Duvall, who leads the nation’s largest farm organization, says the relationships built with Congress and the administration helped deliver $38 billion to help farmers survive and continue producing the nation’s food supply.

“We must evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on our food system and recognize what worked and what needs to be changed,” Duvall stated in his opening comments to the convention on Sunday evening. In the follow-up discussion with Ford, Duvall adds the “just in time system” was challenged due to the pandemic. The price discrepancies around the pricing of beef and packing plants shut down revealed a new reason for AFBF to support legislation encouraging smaller processing plants.  

Ford adds that a bright spot of the pandemic was the recognition of the critical nature of a safe, affordable food supply and elevating to all consumers the national security importance of that food supply.

Ford notes that any discussion with the current administration as well as the incoming administration focuses on the necessity of investing in infrastructure, which includes broadband, roads, water, transportation and access to healthcare. Of the 18 million who lack access to broadband, 14 million live in rural areas.

Before the pandemic, Land O’ Lakes launched the American Connection Project Broadband Coalition to help close the digital divide. As the new administration looks to advance an infrastructure package, Ford says the coalition will be advocating for a major $80 billion or plus to close the digital divide. This must include accurate mapping and efficient rollout of funds and implemented with speed to ensure those without broadband access are not left behind.

New administration

Duvall assures his members that the organization stands ready to work with the new administration. “Farm Bureau has built strong, productive relationships with every administration, every Congress. And, we’re already building those relationships again to continue to be the strong, national voice of agriculture,” he says.

He says they’ve already called and talked personally with some of the new cabinet members. He states the farm bureau has a great relationship with returning Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who was a “partner with us during the Obama administration.”

During the conversation with Ford and during his opening remarks, Duvall also notes the importance of being at the table of climate policy discussions. AFBF has tried to get ahead of the conversations in leading the formation of the Farmers for Sustainability Future coalition as well as the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance.

“We need to make sure farmers are respected and recognized for work in the past, and make sure as we move forward, we have voluntary programs that are market-based,” he says.

When it comes to protecting the environment, about 140 million acres of farmland are enrolled in conservation programs – that’s more than the land mass of California and New York combined. Renewable fuels are made from agricultural feedstocks and are helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 71 million metric tons per year – the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road.

“Now, I’m not saying that we rest on those laurels, but I believe agriculture’s great track record shows just how much we can achieve when farmers and ranchers are at the table when we develop solutions,” Duvall states.

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