August 05, 2017
By Jeff Helms
Monroe County farmer Scott Saucer and daughter Caroline check out a corn test plot during the orange tour.
Sharing, caring, learning and growing were common themes at the Alabama Farmers Federation’s 45th Commodity Producers Conference this week in Birmingham.
Dr. Kevin Folta with the University of Florida inspired about 1,000 farmers attending the conference to be agricultural advocates.
"We talk to each other very well, but we don't talk to others very well,” said Folta during Saturday morning’s general session. "I want you to understand how you can make a huge difference in just 15 minutes a week of stepping into the conversation."
Folta has fallen under attack from activists for refuting social media claims about the dangers of food and farming. He now travels across the country teaching farmers to communicate about agricultural technology.
“We have to understand they have concerns and we are part of the solution — not a threat,” he said. “We have to show empathy and build rapport. “People are seeking honest answers about science, medicine, food and farming, and they don’t know who to trust.”
In addition to Folta’s presentation Saturday, farmers attended seminars on topics ranging from food safety and conservation to herd management and crop rotation. Friday’s agenda featured tours of farms and educational sites throughout central Alabama.
Elmore County farmer Jonathan Edgar joined a tour focused on corn, soybeans and other row crops.
“We always enjoy it every year,” he said. “We get to see other farms, how other people manage their farms and the kind of practices they use. We hope to learn something new to better our farm and make it more successful and more profitable.”
Throughout the conference, Federation members are raising money for Children’s of Alabama. Alfa Insurance® employees contributed more than $20,000 to the hospital, and fundraiser organizers expect the total to at least quadruple by Saturday night’s closing banquet.
“Our members and employees believe in neighbors helping neighbors,” said the Federation’s Matthew Durdin. “This is our second year to include a charitable opportunity at the Commodity Producers Conference. Employees joined in the fundraising as part of their Alfa Cares initiative, and county Farmers Federations and individual members have given generously.”
New Auburn University President Steven Leath kicked off the conference Thursday night by pledging to make a great university even better.
“I’m an ag guy, and we’re going to strengthen agriculture in all its facets,” said Leath, who began his career as a plant pathologist. “We want to make our institution stronger, grow its productivity and yield greater results for people like you.”
Leath also expressed appreciation for the Federation’s partnership in the university’s teaching, research and outreach mission areas.
I’m impressed with your legacy in this state. Alfa and Auburn grew up together,” he said. “I know your role in leading the No. 1 industry in this state, and I’m proud to be associated with you folks.”
At the opening banquet, former Federation Commodity Department Director Jimmy Carlisle was honored by the Sunbelt Ag Expo for years of service on its board of directors. Entertainment was provided by the Living Faith Quartet featuring the thunderous bass of Morgan County Farmers Federation President Mark Byrd.
Saturday afternoon, conference attendees will visit with about 90 vendors and research exhibitors during the inaugural Alabama Farm Expo. Federation Governmental and Agricultural Programs Director Brian Hardin said the event gives farmers a chance to speak one-on-one with scientists and suppliers.
“They have a chance to visit on everything from seed and feed to irrigation and investments,” Hardin said. “One of the most valuable things we can provide our members is a forum for discussion. We hope the Alabama Farm Expo becomes an annual opportunity for sharing and learning.”
The Commodity Producers Conference also hosts competitions for the Women’s Leadership and Young Farmers divisions. Winners in the women’s quilts, Christmas tree skirts and tablescapes contests were announced at lunch Saturday.
Alabama’s Outstanding Young Farm Family and Excellence in Agriculture winners will be announced at the closing banquet, along with the Final Four contestants in Discussion Meet.
For more news and photos from the conference, follow the Federation’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels.