Farm Bureau Policy: How it Works

The democratic process is intensely demonstrated during the annual meeting of the voting delegates at the American Farm Bureau convention.

Published on: Jan 15, 2013

Delegates from across the country convened in Nashville to ratify Farm Bureau policy for the coming year. It's a day-long process that starts at 8 a.m. and runs into the evening.

Robert's Rules of Orders are strictly followed as the delegates worked their way through roughly 350 pages of resolutions. Major topics include government, infrastructure, labor, miscellaneous (ag education, health, nutrition, etc.), security, commodities, crop insurance/risk marketing, farm policy/farm programs, trade/treaties, aquaculture/equine/livestock/poultry, food: protection, quality and safety; inspections/standards, taxes, USDA programs, and the list goes on.

Most Farm Bureau positions have been thoroughly vetted as the process winds through local and state delegate sessions and are finalized by the AFBF Resolutions Committee. However, the resolutions do not become official policy until finally adopted with necessary amendments by the voting delegates at the convention. Delegates carefully consider each policy statement. Some have no changes from previous policy. Some have minor edits – wording changes. Those are usually approved without discussion. Some have major amendments/revisions proposed.

NEW LANGUAGE: Jim Anderson, Illinois, read his amendment to Farm Bureau policy on the role of USDA: "Review criteria for USDA office closure decisions should include miles driven between offices, workload, local input, and inter-agency efficiencies." It was approved.
NEW LANGUAGE: Jim Anderson, Illinois, read his amendment to Farm Bureau policy on the role of USDA: "Review criteria for USDA office closure decisions should include miles driven between offices, workload, local input, and inter-agency efficiencies." It was approved.

For example, there was considerable discussion on immigration, risk management/crop insurance. At times there were so many amendments on the floor – some of which only changed a word or two -- that the situation became confusing. Often, it's a simple disagreement over semantics. However, AFBF president Bob Stallman took the time to clarify each amendment and make sure the delegates understood and were in agreement. "We will get this right, just bear with us."

DELEGATE VOTING: Modern technology makes it fairly easy for delegates to follow revisions and amendments to Farm Bureau policy. Policy revisions are projected on huge screens and edits made right in front of their eyes. Keep in mind these policies are quite detailed.
DELEGATE VOTING: Modern technology makes it fairly easy for delegates to follow revisions and amendments to Farm Bureau policy. Policy revisions are projected on huge screens and edits made right in front of their eyes. Keep in mind these policies are quite detailed.

Generally, voice votes were easily decided yeah or nay – but not always. One amendment, which generated a lot of discussion, was to "support a risk management tool for forage producers". Stallman asked for a voice vote and declared the amendment failed, which received boos from the delegates because it wasn't obvious. So he called for machine vote, which determined the amendment actually passed by a slight percentage.

Another policy – National Dairy Program received a number of amendments. One delegate proposed leaving the policy as is and appointing a task force to review and make recommendations to the AFBF board. That seemed to fall on deaf ears as an energetic discussion continued for some time regarding such parts of the policy as the sale/distribution of raw milk. Supporters of raw milk didn't like the statement that only pasteurized milk be sold from farms for human consumption. Rick Ebert, Pennsylvania delegate, proposed the following amendment: Only non-pasteurized milk from state licensed facilities by sold or distributed for human consumption. The amendment failed.

Persons making amendments must explain their reasoning for making motions to amend the policy revisions.

Most of the policies state what Farm Bureau supports and opposes, but not always.

For example, the Federal Estate and Gift Tax policy listed no opposition. Paul Wenger, California, moved to add the following:  "We oppose unreasonable and unfair estate tax audits; and (2) Estate tax audits that rely solely on an IRS agent's opinion on the value of the agricultural estate but should rather be based on the opinions of licensed appraisers with agricultural experience." His amendment was approved.