Annual AFBF Convention provides educational opportunities
Published on Feb. 8, 2020
Although a visit by President Donald Trump provided plenty of excitement at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Convention in Austin, Texas, attendees had many opportunities for additional excitement learning more about agriculture. The five-day event, Jan.17-22, offered workshop tracks including public policy and advocacy, member engagement, consumer engagement, business and rural development and technology.
Two couples attending from Wyoming were Bill and June Kossert from Natrona County and Stacy and Kyle Berger from Carbon County.
Stacy spoke highly of two workshops she attended, Empower Training: Engage with Today’s Consumers and Trends in Federal Judiciary Judges.
“The workshop from the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) was so interesting,” said Stacy. “Roxi Beck, who handles consumer engagement, talked about the CFI polls that asked consumers who they trust and who they don’t trust. They don’t trust companies, but they do trust local farmers.”
“Roxi explained that because of this knowledge, we need to talk to people and make it easy for them to understand what we do. For instance, when talking to people about gene editing, it’s important people know the benefits, such as that the technology has enabled the allergen to be taken out of the peanut, someone who was previously very allergic to them could eat them. It’s important to explain gene editing is simply editing out a gene,” she said.
“It was interesting to hear in another survey, they’re trying to establish shared values with consumers,” said Stacy. “People don’t care about us being profitable. Their least important value is that we feed the world. The number-one shared value is environmental stewardship.”
A free food resources guide that can be downloaded from the CFI website that educates farmers on the best ways to address agricultural about ag topics, such as food safety and GMOs, with the public.
The other workshop attended by the Bergers talked about how the judicial system looks under the Trump administration. Trump has been successful in turning three different districts to a more conservative side.
“We learned that typically a president will put in place 20 federal judge seats. Trump already filled 30 percent. On the other hand, he’s been denied more than the last 10 presidents combined on his suggestions,” said Stacey.
Texas ag tours
The Bergers took a tour that stopped at the Central Texas Olive Ranch, Crowe’s Nest Farm and Berdoll Pecans.
Olives grown at the Olive Ranch are used for extra virgin olive oil. At the farm, they show how olives are pressed.
“The trees on this farm were very young, only 10 years old. We had been on a trip to Israel and there were olive trees thousands of years old. These were just babies,” Stacy exclaimed.
She continued, “We learned that after olives ripen, they turn black. This family does all of their sales via direct marketing and they do a lot of agri-tourism. They will entertain people from Austin with a dinner and talk to them about agriculture.”
The ag education theme continued at the Crowe’s Nest Farm, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to fostering public appreciation, knowledge and wise stewardship of the agricultural and wildlife resources of Texas.
As part of their mission, they host 40,000 grade school students annually. The farm gives children the opportunity to see bison, ostrich, llamas, pigs and all kinds of farm animals, along with some rescued wildlife. In addition, they have a greenhouse where school kids learn to grow certain vegetables.
“They work with each school to see what the kids are studying and what requirements are needed, then they create a unit for them,” said Stacy. “The woman who runs it is a retired school teacher who saw a real need for kids to learn about ag. They explain to kids how agriculture provides food, fiber and fuel and the importance of agriculture in their daily lives.”
“They have a fall festival where families can take hay rides and pick pumpkins,” she said.
The final stop on the tour was Berdoll Pecans, a farm and business that has been family owned and operated for 33 years. The farm is 340 acres and has 15,000 trees in the orchard and 90,000 in the nursery.
“They have amazing machinery for shelling the pecans with quite a few workers who put the pecans on the conveyer belt. We saw the pecans running through the chocolate. There is vending machine outside where you can buy a $25 pecan pie,” Stacy explained.
She continued, “They wanted to draw attention to their place so they developed a two-story squirrel named Ms. Pearl. It’s now a must see stop in Austin. They’re very business minded.”
A highlight for the Bergers was running in to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue at the trade show. Kyle asked Perdue questions about beef prices and the packers.
“Secretary Perdue said they are working on those issues, even though some are in different departments, but they understand the concerns and are looking into it,” Kyle said. “That’s what I love about Farm Bureau. They give us the opportunity to rub shoulders with people who are the decision makers on ag issues.”
He asked, “When else would we have had the opportunity to talk to someone like Secretary Perdue?”
The Kosserts shared the Berger’s enthusiasm for the convention.
“We meet so many people from so many different areas and learn so much about how other people’s lives are affected by Mother Nature,” said Bill Kossert. “Every time we sat down, we’d start visiting with someone. It seems that nine out of 10 people we visited with were peanut farmers. We certainly learned a lot about peanut farming.”
The couple was pleased to hear President Trump speaking.
“He had a good talk. He’s working to make farmers money, and trying for better trade agreements,” Bill said. “He knows we need to feed a lot of people and it’s important farmers make a profit to stay in business to keep growing food.”
The Kosserts, who manage a cattle ranch outside of Casper, took the Texas Ag Tour that included Little America Miniature Horse Farm, RhinoAg® and CAT.
“It was fun seeing the minis, our son’s wife has a couple. The RhinoAg® tour was impressive as there are 31 companies under the RHINO name that specialize in agricultural equipment industry with emphasis on tractor-mounted rotary cutters, flail grass mowers, rear blades, post hole diggers, finish mowers, rotary tillers, boom cutters and landscape rakes. At this plant, they were making rotary mowers and equipment with arms that go 30 feet high to cut trees,” June noted.
She continued, “The Caterpillar plant was huge – they strictly manufacture motors. It seems their engine blocks are made in Mexico because the EPA regulations in this country are too stringent, so it’s cheaper to make them over the border. But everything else for those engines is made here. It was a really good tour.”
Rebecca Colnar is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.