By Marlee Moore
Alabama farmers traded convention seating for computer screens Jan. 10-14 while participating in American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Virtual Convention.
John Bert East of Cherokee County was one of 18 delegates representing the Alabama Farmers Federation during AFBF’s Virtual Business Session. Farmers from all 50 states and Puerto Rico reviewed and voted on policy recommendations.
“It’s totally different but understandable in the world we live in today,” said East, referring to safety measures implemented to curb the coronavirus pandemic. “It went well; the content was good. Things moved along slower, but that’s OK. Overall, it was a great experience.”
East, who represents District 3 on the state board, gathered safely in Montgomery with fellow board members for the session. The small group used computer tablets to submit votes during the 102nd convention — a sharp contrast to Bert’s first AFBF convention in Nashville three years ago, where thousands of farmers packed the convention space.
The annual business session helps chart the path of the farmer-led organization.
“It’s a unified voice for agriculture when people from different states come together and have a consensus about how they want to go forward with their mission,” said East, a row crop and cattle farmer from Leesburg.
Earlier in the convention, State Women’s Leadership Committee members met in Montgomery to participate in virtual sessions. They elected Indiana’s Isabella Chism to lead AFBF’s female-focused division.
Alabama young farmers competed on the national stage as well. Ben and Bethany Johnson of Randolph County made Top 10 in the Achievement Award contest. Emmanuel Bankston of Henry County and Jerry Allen Newby of Limestone County participated in the Excellence in Agriculture and Discussion Meet contests, respectively.
The state’s largest farm organization also received the New Horizon Award, which honors innovative new programming, for its Alfa Awards. The Alfa Awards debuted in 2019 to recognize researchers and Extension professionals whose work tangibly benefits farmers.
The Federation’s Brian Hardin said these awards raise the bar for continued growth in practical agricultural research. His Governmental & Agricultural Programs Department coordinates the awards.
“As advocates for our members, part of our mission is to work with researchers and Extension staff to be responsive to the needs of Alabama’s farmers,” Hardin said. “It’s an honor to be recognized nationally for these efforts.”
Additionally, Alabama received Awards of Excellence for outstanding achievements in all four program areas: Membership Value; Advocacy; Leadership & Business Development; and Engagement & Outreach.
AFBF Virtual Convention programming, focused on a Stronger Together theme, was free and included educational sessions.
General sessions featured U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, TV personality Mike Rowe, Land O’ Lakes CEO Beth Ford and Navy SEAL Commander Rorke Denver.
During his opening session address, AFBF President Zippy Duvall of Georgia highlighted challenges and successes over the past year, including the #StillFarming campaign, regulatory victories, trade agreements and food supply chain protection efforts.
“It’s still our time,” Duvall said. “And we will make the most of it by being a strong, united voice for all of agriculture. No other organization is as well-positioned to make a difference. We proved it repeatedly in 2020, and we are going to do it again in 2021.”
The Alabama Farmers Federation is a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation and represents 350,000 member families.