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AFBF convention: Packer concentration, input prices and sustainability hot topics during national convention

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Atlanta – The 103rd American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Annual Convention featured an address from U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and a taped message from President Joe Biden, along with a variety of workshops, the IDEAg Trade Show and the delegate session where policy was discussed and voted on for 2022. The convention ran from Jan. 7-11 in Atlanta. 

President’s perspective

Wyoming Farm Bureau (WyFB) President Todd Fornstrom, a diversified rancher from Pine Bluffs, attended several events tailored to state presidents. 

“These meetings promote more relationship building and allow us to hear about the challenges each region of our country faces,” he said. “We visited about how we can help other county presidents and how they can help us.”

The 50 state presidents and Puerto Rico had the opportunity to meet with Secretary Vilsack in a session hosted by AFBF President Zippy Duvall. 

“Secretary Vilsack was the best option we had to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). I believe he will work towards good solutions for agriculture,” Fornstrom said. “One interesting point during our presidents’ meeting with him is he said those involved in dairy need to figure out what they want because if they can’t agree, the USDA can’t do anything for them.”

In addition, presidents met with the organization’s sponsors, including Corteva, Bayer, John Deere, Case IH and Caterpillar, who spoke on what’s going on in the industry.

During the resolutions session, farmer and rancher delegates adopted policies to guide the organization’s work in 2022. Key topics ranged from milk pricing and beef market transparency to urban agriculture. Other discussion covered federal broadband projects, diesel biofuels and the need for employee stabilization and reforms to the guestworker program. 

Fornstrom explained a common thread at this convention and in the delegate session was the massive rise in input costs. He said, “The fact, even with projected higher commodity prices, the input costs going through the roof don’t help us. In addition, there was stimulating discussion about packer concentration and cattle market transparency.”

This sentiment was reflected during a lengthy debate over imbalances in the meat industry, which led to calls for greater transparency in livestock markets. However, concerns were expressed about having the federal government involved in the private cattle market sector.

“Being able to sit on the delegate floor, hearing the discussions amongst the regions, and being part of the discussion is what Farm Bureau is all about,” Fornstrom said. “Since this was the first meeting since COVID-19, it was good to be back in the swing of things. It’s always great to go to these; having interaction with your people and with those in other states is a good reminder of why we get together.”

Supporting agriculture

WyFB Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton attended several of the workshops. One of the best, he believed, was a presentation by Dr. Stepehen Koontz, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Colorado State University. 

“He presented a lot of information about packer concentration and having a requirement for packers to buy more cattle on the open market wouldn’t provide any help to producers; in fact, it would result in $50 per head less than a cattle producer would have received,” Hamilton reported. “He also believes we have a good chance of seeing two dollar calves in the coming years.”

Another workshop, Perspectives from the Food Supply and Beyond, featured a panel with a representative from Tyson, Environmental Defense Fund, Bayer Crop Science and Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Oregon.

“Two interesting points were when Callie Eiderberg with the Environmental Defense Fund said her counterparts at other environmental organizations don’t realize how much work is in farming and ranching and don’t understand what’s involved,” said Hamilton. “My other thought was Justin Ransom with Tyson said there has to be a lot more transparency in the supply chain, especially production agriculture, yet nobody questioned why Tyson is so untransparent. It was an interesting presentation.” 

Optimism in agriculture

WyFB Vice President Cole Coxbill echoed Fornstrom’s sentiments regarding the convention. 

“It’s always great to get back with long-time friends from across the country and talk about policies and issues going on at home. It’s refreshing to learn that they are dealing with something similar; you’re not alone,” the diversified farmer from Torrington said. “Everyone is passionate about agriculture, as that’s our family history, and we’re all working toward the same goal – to continue to produce an abundant food supply not only for consumers in this country but across the world.”

He admitted there there are hard times with the drought and worries about input costs, especially the extreme rise in fertilizer prices. 

“In many people’s opinions, COVID-19 has been used as an excuse regarding the big increase in input prices,” Coxbill said. “However, agriculturalists are true optimists, as well as original environmentalists, and despite worries, we are still positive about the future of agriculture.”

Coxbill was able to attend the History of Atlanta Tour, which included a visit to the Atlanta History Center where the group learned about the founding of Atlanta – when the area was called Trasherville in 1839, Atlanta’s role in Civil War history, as well as the Civil Rights Movement and more.

Rebecca Colnar is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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