When you hear about what is going on in Washington, you often hear about the battle between political parties or special interests. Sometimes it’s easy to pick a fight with another group. But what’s harder—and often more productive—is working with groups that don’t always agree with you to find common ground. Over the past few years, I’ve been proud that Farm Bureau has taken a seat at the table with many other organizations so we can help build a better future for agriculture and the communities our members live in.
By bringing people with different viewpoints together, we achieve much more than any one group could accomplish on its own. We see the truth of this in our individual communities as neighbors help neighbors. It’s that spirit that led us a few years ago to partner with National Farmers Union and Farm Credit to launch a training program to help spot the signs of stress on the farm and offer help. Unfortunately, farmers and ranchers are more likely to commit suicide than those in any other occupation. The inability to control the cost of supplies, the weather and the price for their products can take a tremendous toll on a farmer’s mental health. Not to mention, farming can be rather solitary and it’s natural for us to keep fears and feelings bottled up. No one should feel hopeless or that they have to go it alone. Partnering with these organizations, we reached more people than we could have on our own – and our communities are better off because of it. I have no doubt that lives have been saved thanks to that partnership.
Another issue that we have been working with a diverse group of stakeholders is around climate policy. A few years ago, it became clear this was a rising topic in both the public and private sectors. Farmers and ranchers have made notable strides in reducing our environmental impact and in caring for our soil and water. At the American Farm Bureau, we stepped up to engage more fully in the conversation. We’re putting a spotlight on advances in climate-smart farming to better tell the world our story. And together with other agriculture, forestry, food processing and environmental groups, we formed a historic alliance: the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance. This coalition represents people who may not always think alike. Still, we focus on areas where we agree, without compromising our grassroots’ policies, and put forward responsible policy solutions to support farmers and ranchers as we work together to achieve sustainability goals. Because of it, the focus in Washington is very different from a decade or so ago, with much talk of respecting farmers and ranchers as partners.
A much broader conversation is underway about advancing climate-smart farming. There are groups far removed from the farm, like the United Nations, that seek to set goals for farmers. Unfortunately, the UN has a track record of omitting some facts and failing to fully rely on science, in addition to closing its doors to U.S. farmers and ranchers. We must have a seat at the table if we hope to set the record straight and stop damaging policies and commitments. Coalitions like U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action are also doing important work to ensure agriculture is represented and farmers have a seat at the table, including at tomorrow’s UN Food Systems Summit. If we want the UN to recognize the remarkable leadership shown by U.S. agriculture in advancing sustainability goals, then we darn well better have a seat at the table.
One thing farmers and ranchers know how to do is work together. We work to improve our communities and push for policies that will help us successfully deliver the food, fiber and fuel our country needs. From our work ensuring food bank shelves were restocked early in the pandemic, to packing meals for kids to replace school lunches and even sewing masks to donate when there was a shortage, our commitment to giving back continues. Our Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee is coming up on 20 years of working together to give back through our Harvest for All program. In 2020 alone, YF&R programs across the country donated nearly 52 million pounds of food, spent 22,570 hours volunteering, and donated more than $1.4 million to their local food banks. Bottom line, that spirit of cooperation inspires me. Whether it’s improving our communities or improving the policies that impact us and our communities, I am proud to take a seat at many different tables to represent agriculture as we work to find solutions.
This column originally appeared in the October|November 2021 Rural Route.