Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Idaho Farm Bureau's 70th Annual Meeting

Idaho Farm Bureau President Frank Priestley's Address to Delegate Members, Tuesday, December 1st, Shilo Inn, Idaho Falls:

"Welcome to Idaho Falls for the 70th Annual Idaho Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting. It’s thrilling to think that for past 70 years fellow farmers, met like we are today in this post season ritual. It’s a time of Thanks but also a time for reflection.

In 1939 the nation was still suffering through the Great Depression, It was also the year of the Farm Bureau’s first annual meeting, times were hard and money tight. That year farmers battled flat markets--shortages of fuel and fertilizer and that drove input costs up, many had trouble getting credit. Seventy years later we’re battling the same issues. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Times are hard but we have a lot to be proud of. Agriculture still represents the greatest success story in the history of the world. We put a man on the moon, harnessed the power the power of the atom, cured polio but all of these monumental accomplishments are second to feeding the world. When you have food you have a civilization, with civilization you have prosperity and harmony; time to pursue intellectual pursuits.

Today, farm land supplies more than 90% of the world food supply while occupying just 12% of the Earth. During the past 100 years, we have increased the amount of food harvested on planet seven times! All done through agricultural science and technology, everything from plant and animal breeding that drastically increase yields to fertilizer with new innovations like Round-up Ready seed.

With global demand for grain doubling in the next decade, Monsanto Company is introducing the next wave of High Impact Technology products that will improve farmer yields.

The world population is expected to top 8 billion people by 2030! With shifting diets and stagger demand, Monsanto is focused on growing more grain with fewer resources through the application of these Round-up products.

We’re not in the habit of endorsing one agricultural supplier over another, but the importance of sending in the public comment cards should not be lost on farmers, their participation is critical; here’s why:
Roundup Ready crops are genetically engineered to resist glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicides. This resistance is a technological breakthrough in plant breeding which enables farmers to produce more crops while reducing the amount of herbicides applied to kill weeds. Fewer herbicide applications not only save farms money, it reduces environmental impact on the land.

This technology allows farmers to increase yields through better weed control. In addition, the technology allows growers to use no-till methods on 62 million acres in the U.S. alone, with the potential to more than double that amount. With no-till, farmers don’t have to plow fields. Less disturbance of the dirt sequesters, or traps carbon in the soil, rather than releasing it into the air in the form of carbon dioxide. This method conserves topsoil, reduces soil runoff into streams and decreases fuel use by reducing tractor traffic across fields.

In spite of the agricultural and economic benefits this project brings to southeast Idaho, we know that several environmental organizations will provide public comment to attempt to block the opening of this new mine. And we know they’ll do it with no consideration for the 770 southeast Idaho jobs at stake, the $115 million in annual wages paid, or the $773,000 in annual property taxes paid by the mine. Losing this mining operation would be a huge blow not only to southeast Idaho’s economy, but to farms and ranches across this country.

Once again, while we don’t make it a practice to endorse agriculture suppliers, this is exactly the kind of progress that makes farms more efficient and keeps American families on the land. We think that’s important. We know that not only farms but most families keep a bottle of roundup in the garage.

Roundup is also used by lots of other folks who manage ball fields, golf courses, cemeteries and various other large tracts of land. We urge all Idaho farmers, ranchers and anyone else who has a stake in this process to write in and let the Bureau of Land Management know how important it is to maintain phosphate ore production in southeast Idaho.

Speaking of Production, last June the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate stabilization act that sets up a ‘cap-and-trade' system to restrict Americans’ carbon emissions. In the months after the 7-vote victory the hidden costs of the legislation have surfaced and the costs to agriculture and struggling families are enormous.

Even the bluest economists have a hard time conceding American families would pay just a few hundred dollars a year in what amounts to a massive carbon tax. Some of the costs could be recovered in a carbon trade market, but the Obama administration has failed to take into account the basics of trade speculation. There’s no limit or even control on how much a carbon credit can be sold for, it's supply and demand and speculators stand to make billions while many Idaho
families will struggle to raise a few extra thousand dollars a year.

Last summer Representative Walt Minnick told Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman that he opposed the bill, because the sale of pollution credits could be controlled by the aforementioned speculators, the same guys who put oil prices on a roller coaster last year.

MIT did a study last spring and estimated the cap and trade market would be worth $366 billion in revenue. That revenue would be paid by those who purchased the credits and then passed the cost along to the consumers in the form of higher prices for power, fuel, and manufactured goods. If you divide $366 billion by 300 million households, the cost per household is more than $31-hundred dollars. That bill assumed the federal government would return a portion of the money to the consumers while keeping a portion for research on energy related technologies. We all know what happens when we assume…

There are lessons to be learned. Other countries have tried caps and trade and failed. Spain went cap and trade years ago and for every “green job” created, two regular jobs were lost. Also global warming has disappeared in the past year, and is now known as climate change. The reason is that the earth is not warming, at least not in a way caused by humans. Actually the planet has not warmed in 8 years. In fact, the EPA recently said earth is going to have a temperature decline for the next twenty years.

The National Debt continues to be a constant worry. I know at harvest time we all try and pay down our debt as the checks roll in, a practice that the Federal Government has ignored the past two decades. Just paying down the nation's staggering national debt down the road will cost more than the current annual Pentagon budget -- including funding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s just making payments on the debt!

By 2019, the federal government will pay more than $700 billion a year on its debt load, currently ringing in at $12 trillion. The figures, contained in the White House's mid-session budget review, were the basis for an alarming New York Times story warning that actual interest expenses could go higher.

By way of comparison, the Defense Department this year is expected to spend about $664 billion on operations including two costly wars overseas. All we can ask and hope for is that government will spend responsibly, pay its bills, and look for ways to save money instead of ways to spend it.

One way the Federal Government can save money is to quit paying environmental lawyers for suing us…That’s right, the U.S. Government pays the legal fees of environmental lawyers that sue the Government.

Since 2003, the Department of Justice’s Judgment Fund has paid out $4.7 billion in judgments that includes refunding attorney’s fees. Documents uncovered by the Western Legacy Alliance shows that environmental groups have cashed checks amounting to tens of millions of dollars from this fund; but the Department of Justice website just opened this year doesn’t show whom the payments were made or for what purpose.

That’s not sitting well with Western Congressmen including Mike Simpson. In an open letter to the DOJ dated November 2, 2009, members of the Congressional Western Caucus expressed their concerns to Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the abuse of the Equal Access to Justice Act by these environmental and special interest groups.

The Caucus expressed concern over the complete lack of oversight, accountability, and transparency in the process and payments to groups under the act, which some think has contributed to large-scale abuse.

When the law was first enacted, federal agencies had to report Equal Access applications and the amount of attorney fees each agency awarded to groups and individuals. But that reporting ended in 1995 with the Sunset Act. Since 1998 there’s been no uniform method of reviewing the Equal Access Act and there’s no public accountability or transparency in the program.

Since then Environmental groups filed more than 1,500 cases. Since there’s no accountability or reporting, no one knows how many millions or billions the government has paid out. We do have a rough idea with that $4.7 billion dollar figure mentioned before; but it could be more.

Western Legacy is working to find the dollar amounts paid out and educate the public and Congress while demanding prompt action to ensure appropriate use and reporting of taxpayer dollars from federal programs. We commend them in this effort.

In these times the PR people say that image and perception is everything. Some would argue that Ag needs new blood. I would agree that at some time in the near future we will pass the torch to a new generation. I saw a bright, new face this fall on the fair circuit. Kara Jackson the reining Miss Idaho was mobbed everywhere she appeared and she carried with her a unique platform, cause…She chose Agriculture Education as her platform.

Jackson says her platform is to not only educate Idahoans about the importance of Agriculture, but the nation as well. She told reporters last spring that she doesn’t think Americans appreciate how much work it takes to get food from the farm to market.

As many recall, last summer Kara was warmly received by the County Presidents, and I can't think of a better Ag ambassador than this farm girl from Meridian. She will take an important message back to the Miss American Pageant on January 30th that "Agriculture affects every man woman and child in this country," I couldn’t agree more.

Jackson grew up on a hobby farm in Ada County, Idaho. She was involved in 4-H and Future Farmers of America and showed animals as part of her 4-H projects as a child. She’s competed in a discussion meet and is on the Ada County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, one of the youngest directors ever to serve there. We will watch the pageant on January 30th and support this young ambassador.

Farming and the American Farm Bureau have certainly changed since 1919. But in 90 years, but the grassroots power of the organization remains constant. All Farm Bureau policy starts at the local level and is written by thousands of families who are members of more than 2,700 county and parish Farm Bureaus in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

By being a member of this “grassroots” organization you have direct access through your county Farm Bureau to establish state and national policy and direction. By working together, members turn Farm Bureau policies into legislative action, accomplishing together what would be impossible to do alone.

The grassroots movement of Farm Bureau is more important as we look ahead to 2010. There are so many challenges to address. Cap and Trade, implementation of the farm bill, expanding renewable energy and addressing climate change tops the list. Another continuing concern to U.S. agriculture is the increased environmental regulations making it difficult to profitably run a farm or ranch. Farm Bureau will work hard to communicate those concerns to the Environmental Protection Agency, State and County agencies with regulatory authority.

The issues we must address at the Idaho Statehouse and on Capitol Hill are as vast and wide as the cornucopia of agricultural products its members produce. But the mission of Farm Bureau to enhance and strengthen the lives of our members and build strong, prosperous agricultural communities will continue to move forward in 2009.

As I close this speech I think back to 1939 and our first annual meeting, the challenges were daunting, the stakes were great, but we found a way to get through tough economic times. Seven decades later we face the same challenges…We will carry on, knowing that what we plant now, we’ll harvest later."

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