Monday, July 25, 2016

Presidents OP-ED

Farmers & ranchers are strongest when we stand together
By AFBF President Zippy Duval

Washington-Neighbors helping neighbors is a cornerstone on which Farm Bureau was founded. It's how we get things done. The more I travel across this land, the more I'm convinced we all need to understand the issues our fellow farmers and ranchers are facing, whether ten miles down the road or thousands of miles across the country.

 The challenges facing agriculture are very much like a diverse ecosystem, but when you take a closer look, you'll find that most American farmers are all tackling one common invasive species: a federal system that too often lacks respect for individual property rights, economic competitiveness and fairness in general.

From the Waters of the U.S. rulemaking and the Endangered Species Act, to public lands and water rights-the federal government continues to slap burdensome regulations on farmers without considering what it takes to keep an agricultural business up and running. As your AFBF president, I want to see firsthand what you're facing on your farms and ranches, so I can tell your stories to our lawmakers on Capitol Hill and to farmers in other regions.

On my recent travels through the West, I saw the impact of regulatory overreach. I saw how public lands are withering under federal constraints and mismanagement. Ranchers are being trampled by federal agencies that want to drive them off public lands their families have used-and helped care for-for generations. Overpopulation of wild horses and burros is just one example of how the government is serving neither man nor beast out West. Instead of the public image of strong, wild horses galloping free, with beautiful manes flying in the air, most of these animals barely survive.

Dehydrated and starving, they have devastated the landscape and local ecosystems through severe overgrazing. The Bureau of Land Management by law must control the excess population or give ranchers the license they need to help mitigate the problem. BLM has done neither. Time and again farmers and ranchers have used their ingenuity and tireless work ethic to preserve natural resources and build up local communities. But when agriculture is pushed out, natural resources often go to waste.

Western forests have suffered crushing losses from the destructive mountain pine beetle. Yet federal agencies have allowed nature to run its course, wiping out millions of acres of Western trees, rather than working with local farmers and businesses to establish best practices to stop the pests, reduce fuel for wildfires and preserve forests and local timber industries. The result is bare mountainsides and depressed rural economies where businesses have been forced to pull out. Farmers and ranchers use good business sense to conserve natural resources, but when we're driven out, who's left to care for these lands that were meant to be a source of national pride? The challenges facing agriculture are significant, but not insurmountable. Our Farm Bureau strength comes through when we reach across regions to help our neighbors from all walks of agriculture.

Our Creator, in many passages throughout the Bible, instructs us to love our neighbors and treat them as we want to be treated. When Southerners needed support in their efforts to strengthen the safety net for cotton growers, farmers from across the country united behind their neighbors in the South. One of my proudest moments as a Farm Bureau member was when voting delegates from other regions were debating cotton policy at the AFBF Annual Convention last January and said, in effect, we stand for all of agriculture-we must help each other.

 Through my travels and conversations with farmers and ranchers in every region, I hope to raise awareness of regional challenges, such as the Western problems I have seen recently, and give Farm Bureau members more examples of how they can help their neighbors and stand united for all of agriculture.

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