Representing the Cowboy State: Wyoming Farm Bureau members attend national convention in Salt Lake City
Twenty-four Wyoming Farm Bureau (WyFB) members jumped at the chance to travel to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Annual Convention, potentially only a car drive away in Salt Lake City.
The 105th annual convention saw more than 4,500 farm bureau members from across the country in attendance. With the theme “New Frontiers,” the event’s speakers and workshops challenged farmers and ranchers to think outside of the box.
Optimism to get through hard times
WyFB President Todd Fornstrom, a farmer from Pine Bluffs, said everyone he visited with enjoyed being in a different part of the U.S. than the generally southern half of the country-based conventions.
“Of course, whether visiting with other presidents or talking to people at the trade show, trade and labor remain large issues. U.S. farmers are the best in the world, so it is hard to ignore us on the world trade stage,” Fornstrom said.
As president, he had the opportunity to join the President’s Dinner for state and past presidents, including visiting with AFBF President Zippy Duvall and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
“Farm bureau has had the privilege of having Vilsack visit with state presidents regularly,” said Fornstrom. “It’s good to know we at least have the ear of the Secretary of Agriculture, and he is willing to sit down and listen.”
The Wyoming representative thought Speaker and Futurist Jack Uldrich was fascinating.
“His talk discussed how producers need to understand just because their grandpa and dad farmed a certain way, doesn’t mean it will work again. We need to be on our toes and have our heads on a swivel,” Fornstrum said.
Fornstrom finds the most significant value of the convention is gaining new perspectives and, most importantly, knowing no matter what a person is going through in farming or ranching, they’re not the only one.
“Optimism to get through hard times is going to be key,” he said.
Grassroots power of farm bureau
WyFB Vice President Cole Coxbill enjoyed the closing session with Speaker Greg Harden, a performance coach who offered a good message about being yourself but doing it positively.
As a voting delegate, Coxbill sits on the delegate floor.
“It’s always impressive to sit with Todd to see what delegates from state farm bureaus will vote on to become policy for the year,” he said.
“It is impressive how every one of the policies we review on the floor came from an individual who belongs to a county farm bureau. There is a farmer or rancher somewhere in the U.S. who came up with that policy. This is the grassroots power of farm bureau,” he added.
Coxbill explained he’s uniquely positioned at the national farm bureau meetings as he previously served as the national Young Farmer and Rancher chair in 2016 and sat on the AFBF Board for a year.
“This was a great honor and learning experience,” Coxbill said. “I got to know many people on the board across the country, and I see many of them now at the conventions in the halls and the trade show.”
Opportunity to meet new people
This was the first convention for Jed Heap, who raises beef cows, alfalfa and barley next to the Idaho border, 50 miles south of Jackson Hole.
“Since the convention was only a four-hour drive from the ranch, I figured I’d better go and take advantage of it being this close,” said Heap, Lincoln County Farm Bureau president.
He agreed the meeting was well organized, and he especially enjoyed meeting new people, including attending a group dinner with the Montana Farm Bureau.
“I was able to meet a man I’ve been selling hay to who lives south of Nashville. He’s a county farm bureau president, so it was great to visit face-to-face,” Heap noted.
Heap attended several workshops, including one on mental health and a panel discussion with the AFBF policy team, who shared information on the different issues each is working on.
What he found especially interesting was the county farm bureau booths where they shared their actions to benefit their communities.
“One project was ‘Be a Farmer for a Day,’ where county farm bureau members would feed children breakfast and then have the kids pet goats, learn about other farm animals and do different things on the farm. This is something we could try in our county,” he pointed out.
He further noted the highlight of the trip was a tour of the Mormon Tabernacle, where they could see the famous organ.
“My wife plays the organ, so they let her play in the Tabernacle,” he concluded. “This convention was well worth our time.”
Lex Geer’s farm bureau roots are deep, going back to his grandfather, who attended an AFBF convention in the 1970s.
“I’ve always had going to the national convention on my to-do list,” said Geer, a cow/calf producer. “It was a very humbling and exciting experience.”
Geer said topping the list was visiting with different members from across the country and learning about their farms, ranches and the challenges they are facing.
He attended a workshop on talking to the younger generation about farm bureau and keeping the enthusiasm alive for those directly involved and not involved in production agriculture.
“The presenters covered the mindset of the younger generation and how to approach them using their mindset,” Geer shared.
He added another workshop covered having goals, being thankful and counting blessings.
“One excellent workshop covered having effective meetings. The presenter said meetings should only be 45 minutes to an hour. Meetings need to be short, participants should get to the point and everyone should speak,” Geer said.
“Visiting with folks across the country on issues and what they do in their everyday lives was interesting,” he continued. “I enjoyed visiting with a farmer from West Virginia who has a cow/calf operation. He said they have had too much water this year and have even had mudslides. I visited with some folks from the South who have never seen much snow.”
Like Heap, the Campbell County president gleaned helpful ideas from the county’s idea exchange.
“A few booths showed what they are doing to attract the younger generation, including non-ag kids. A county booth from Indiana hosted a ‘Touch and Feel a Ttractor Day.’ They put farm equipment out and said it was overwhelming that 200 kids showed up. Another booth had tiny postcards to write who you are and what you do, so I wrote what I do as a farmer, where I live and how little rain we receive annually,” Geer added.
When they were asked to do a blog for WyFB about their thoughts on the convention, Geer said, “My first words were ‘Sign me up for San Antonio.’ I’m always wanting to learn.”
Rebecca Colnar is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.