By Jeff Helms
After meeting virtually last year, farmers from 50 states and Puerto Rico welcomed the opportunity to fellowship and share ideas at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Convention in Atlanta Jan. 7-11.
Alabama Farmers Federation members from Cullman and Dale counties were named finalists in Young Farmers and Ranchers competitive events, and a startup with Alabama ties won the People’s Choice Award in the Ag Innovation Challenge. Federation President Jimmy Parnell said spending time with other farmers was the highlight of the convention, which had a theme of “Growing Tomorrow, Together: People, Purpose, Possibilities.”
“I like to focus on the people in Farm Bureau,” Parnell said. “We come from different parts of the country. We have different accents. Some grow crops; some grow livestock. Some of us have hair; some of us do not. But we have a lot in common. We all care about our land. We care about our livestock. We care about each other, and we love America.”
Alabama Outstanding Young Farm Family winners Josh and Savannah McCoy of Dale County were recognized during the convention’s closing general session as Top 10 finalists for the AFBF Achievement Award.
Josh McCoy said the honor validated their hard work, but the experience of competing was the greatest reward.
“Being able to talk to other people here, including people in the Achievement Award contest, was great,” said McCoy, who attended his first AFBF Convention. “It opens your eyes to how much more is going on in agriculture than what’s happening in your town, county or even state. Being able to converse and be with like-minded people is refreshing.
“The people in the Farmers Federation and AFBF are amazing, and we appreciate the help we’ve had along the way,” he added.
Cullman County young farmer Kyle Morris advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the Discussion Meet, where he and fellow competitors suggested ideas to reduce farm accidents. Like McCoy, Morris praised the experience of competing at the national level.
“Discussion Meet is my favorite of the Young Farmers competitions because it makes you understand where the Federation and AFBF have to go to move forward,” Morris said. “It makes you understand how what we do in the policy room matters. I’ve been doing this for several years. I had a thimbleful of understanding of Alfa when I started, and now I may have a tablespoon. There’s still a lot I’m learning. Being able to compete against people from other states and see other perspectives really opens your eyes.”
Additionally, Lauren and Landon Marks of Cherokee County represented Alabama in the Excellence in Agriculture contest.
At the closing session, Caravan Tech LLC, whose shareholders include Federation members, won the People’s Choice Award in the AFBF Ag Innovation Challenge. The company uses technology to track livestock. Caravan Tech LLC received $10,000 as a Top 10 finalist and another $5,000 for the People’s Choice Award. Chonex, another Alabama company, also received $10,000 as a finalist. Chonex has developed a patented process for producing organic fertilizer while recycling poultry litter.
During the convention, Alabama farmers attended educational workshops, a trade show and general sessions featuring keynote addresses by AFBF President Zippy Duvall and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
It was the first AFBF convention for Federation District 4 Director Steve Lake of Cullman County and his wife, Lisa.
“I really enjoy being here,” said the state board member. “Meeting with farmers from the other states, getting their perspectives on things and talking to these folks is just really interesting.”
Lisa said the convention made her more optimistic about the future of agriculture.
“I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve been hearing from Zippy Duvall about the future of agriculture and the future of Farm Bureau, as well as the things he’s doing to get us into the conversation about sustainability,” she said.
Duvall, a farmer from Georgia, said AFBF remains dedicated to its grassroots origins.
“The American Farm Bureau team is sharing your stories on Capitol Hill, with the administration and through many communications channels that reach far and wide,” Duvall said. “Sharing those stories is important within our organization, too, because we are strong when members understand what their neighbors in other regions are facing.
“Over our 102-year history, Farm Bureau has become the leader we are today by adapting and working with every administration and every Congress. But what has never changed is how we stand tall for you. Adapting doesn’t mean forgetting our roots. We remain grounded in our purpose, which strengthens us to make this time our time,” he added.
The convention concluded with the annual business session where more than 300 voting delegates considered policy recommendations. Parnell served as vice chair of the business session.