Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Sunday 01/13/13

Farm Bureau President Points to Victories and Battles Ahead

Farmers scored some major victories with tax policy in the final throes of the lame-duck session, but farm policy will center on immigration and the farm bill this year, American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman told members Sunday at the opening address of the group's annual meeting.

About 6,000 members of AFBF converged on rainy Nashville starting Sunday to talk about issues affecting the group in the coming year. Delegates on Tuesday aren't expected to center debate around one particular issue, but Farm Bureau will be heavily involved in several issues this year.

Stallman, starting his 12th year as president of the group, said farmers won legislative victories in tax policy with permanent reform of estate taxes and capital-gains taxes. While some farm groups have frequently called for the estate tax to be eliminated altogether, estate taxes were set at a $5 million exemption and a 40% rate.

"The estate tax has been a threat to our heritage of families passing farms from one generation to the next," Stallman said in his speech Sunday. "And even though it is permanently reduced, it has not gone away. It will still threaten some farms and ranches. But putting permanently lower rates and a higher exemption in place is a big victory -- one that Farm Bureau members have worked hard to achieve."


"I begin with these words to you on why your farms, your ranches and your rural communities matter In spite of reports you might have read, you are relevant." He added shortly after, "When you're keeping people fed, I would say you're pretty darn relevant."

Speaking later to reporters, Stallman said his comments were not a criticism of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's portrayal of the way rural America is viewed right now, but Stallman said he was instead building on some of Vilsack's comments. In fact, Stallman said the agriculture secretary had come to Stallman's office last fall to talk before Vilsack began to make comments about the political relevancy of rural America.

"I viewed it as sort of adding on to what he said and some of the comments," Stallman said in a press conference. "I know there have been various interpretations of what the secretary said."

Stallman added, "What he is trying to do is make the point -- I think, this is the way I view it -- that we in agriculture, number one, better get our act together and get united because demographically we don't have the voting strength we used to. And if we're fragmented while pursuing different things and aren't focused on what we need for rural America and agriculture, in other words, if we don't have that sort of strategic vision if you will, it's going to be difficult for us to get the kind of assistance or policies in place that will help us."

Stallman added Vilsack has helped Farm Bureau on several issues. The secretary worked hard with the Labor Department and White House to protect the exemption for child labor in agriculture, for instance.

While Stallman hit on high voter turnout, Farm Bureau members likely will remain at odds with the Obama administration. A Reuters survey last year at the annual meeting showed 75% of Farm Bureau members would vote Republican, while only 3.5% planned to vote for President Barack Obama. The rest of those who participated in that survey were undecided.


Stallman noted work on a new farm bill has been difficult. It had appeared until the final days of the lame-duck session that a five-year bill would get done. Still, Congress did kick into action when the potential of milk jumping to $7 a gallon became major news at the end of the year. "The farm bill has been a frustrating process, but it was actually refreshing to see an instance where the media connected the dots and the public began to understand that farm policy has important impacts for them at the grocery store," he said.

Stallman said he wasn't expecting a lot of debate among AFBF delegates about farm policy. The group has fairly general policies, but supported both pieces of farm bill legislation last year that the Senate and House Agriculture Committees approved. Farm Bureau members are willing to accept the loss of direct payments in return for a strong crop insurance program.

"Our members, in general, really think that the future of the safety net will consist of risk-management tools," Stallman said.


Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups have formed a coalition to work on immigration reform in 2013. The agricultural groups would like to see a guest-worker program to replace the current H2A program. The farm groups are proposing a worker-contract plan to deal with temporary labor and a plan that would deal with longer-term labor, such as those workers in areas such as dairy.

He said it would hopefully deal with and bring out of the shadows the workers who have been doing very constructive, hard work on farms, but had illegal documentation. "Hopefully, it would allow them to come out and apply for these visas and work legally."

With the election and voting patterns, Stallman said, "I think there is a broader recognition now, and part of it is driven by pure politics, but the reality is there and political leaders have come to the conclusion that this is something that needs to be addressed."

Stallman said one worry is whether the fights over the debt ceiling and budget cuts "poison the well" for Congress to work together to pass an immigration bill.

On environmental issues, Stallman's speech included a video of a West Virginia poultry farmer who successfully fought an EPA demand that the farm get a water discharge permit. Citing that battle and the Farm Bureau case against EPA on the Chesapeake Bay, Stallman said Farm Bureau will continue to push back against agencies that seek to expand regulatory authority.

The Farm Bureau convention continues Monday with a speech from Vilsack, as well as a keynote speech from astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of former Arizona Rep. Gabby Gifford. Farm Bureau delegates debate their policy resolutions Tuesday.

Chris Clayton can be reached at

Posted at 8:40PM CST 01/13/13 by Chris Clayton
Comments (5)
Posted by Lon Truly at 7:56AM CST 01/14/13
I do not have the time to follow up on yours and Rics references. I still work for a living. I think the Dems., Repubs. and TEA Parties are all to liberal, but thanks to the Farm Bureau and the likes, I can continue getting info. and opinions from those I probably do not agree with. For whatever benefit that may be.
Posted by Bonnie Dukowitz at 8:30AM CST 01/14/13
I followed the link, and found the "snarkiest" Lady Blogger since Anne Coulter, but with a bit more on the ball. I subscribed, but likely, as with everyone else, I probably won't agree with everything she says or thinks. Bonnie, you know you're my favorite "snarky" Commentator. Ric
Posted by Ric Ohge at 9:42AM CST 01/14/13
I know many did not like Vilsack's comments on rural america but it is absolutely true. Economically and produce wise it is very important. Politically it is falling into irrelivance because those that really produce something are now the minority in the voters.
Posted by CRAIG MOORE at 12:51PM CST 01/14/13
Sounds like the annual meeting was more of a venting/rant for political losers! A vote against Sharia law??? A vote to see how many favor Romney over Obama? Really relevant time consuming issues to mull over! Hope they played some good old 1950's sitcoms where women and "the colored folk" knew their place.
Posted by Jay Mcginnis at 7:32AM CST 01/16/13
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