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American Farm Bureau Federation is an independent and voluntary organization operating on local, state, national, and international levels. Farm Bureau’s philosophy is to analyze the problems farmers face and develop a plan of action for these problems. It is organized to please its members and to unite farmers to strive for goals on which they agree.

The first Farm Bureau was organized with the goal of protecting the industry of agriculture and improving life for Missouri farmers. On March 24, 1915, at eleven o’ clock in the morning, in Slater, Missouri, history was made. Farm adviser Paul Maris tapped his gavel to began this memorable meeting. Ten Missouri counties were represented. Several ideas were shared, but the main idea was to advance toward the interests of Missouri agriculture. From this, the Missouri Farm Bureau was formed. The grassroots organization has spread throughout the nation and Puerto Rico.

The need for the organization to fight for farmers in the legislature is self evident. Farm Bureau’s original purpose, which was to help farmer’s oppose laws which would be harmful to agriculture, is both noble and laudable. Not only are the goals of the organization worth while, but in the past, Farm Bureau has been extremely effective in achieving those goals. As your letter inviting me to speak to you today states, “Farm Bureau has been instrumental in the passage of practically every piece of legislation, which affected farmers in the past 90 years.”

Farm Bureau is a good organization, but it can become a great one. Today you are going to hear a lot about the positive attributes of Farm Bureau, but I am going to focus on the areas where the organization has strayed from its philosophy and original purpose. Today we are discussing how Farm Bureau is leading the challenges farmers face. In my opinion, the key to facing these challenges is to first focus on problems within Farm Bureau.

Farm Bureau positions and policies cover nearly one hundred pages in written material. Many of these positions and policies are irrelevant to agricultural concerns. The Bureau has policies ranging from moral issues to health care . I was STUNNED to discovered how far afield the Bureau has ranged from its original purpose. I asked ten farmers in my community if they knew that Farm Bureau had policies on moral issues. None of them knew. All were surprised. The reason for the outcome to my very informal survey is that the organization’s purpose is “promote the welfare of farmers“, as stated in its philosophy. It is not to speak out on politically social issues unrelated to farming.
Farm Bureau wastes time and resources on problems not pertaining to agriculture. For example, the bureau is against human cloning, drug abuse, gay rights, funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, and pornography. It believes adoption laws should be updated. It is in favor of weakening the Endangered Species Act. It is in favor of nuclear energy and nuclear fusion. These are just a few of the many unrelated policies Farm Bureau has actively lobbied for or against. Don’t ask yourselves if you agree with the stance Farm Bureau takes on these issues; the question is why is Farm Bureau involved with issues not pertaining to agricultural concerns. How does saving an unborn child help increase the price of soybeans? How does fighting against gay rights increase the quality of pork? Do you honestly believe none of your farmer members are gay? How does weakening the Endangered Species Act decrease fuel prices? The fact is none of these policies help in the advancement of agriculture.

Instead of exerting time on these impertinent issues, the Bureau should focus on problems the agriculture industry faces: water rights, CFO‘s, high priced fertilizer, and high fuel prices, etc. The agriculture industry is always going to have issues, and organizations need to be prepared for these problems and shouldn’t waste time on unrelated issues.

The Bureau’s tendency to stray from its original philosophy has unfortunately, affected its judgment with regard to which legislation it should support.

On April 14, 2008, the Missouri legislature approved a bill that ensured farmers’ right to save patented seed to replant on their own farms. The Seed Availability and Competition Act passed committee after vigorous debate among agricultural organizations. This bill had the potential to save Missouri soybean producers $61 million currently, or approximately thirty eight dollars per acre. Monsanto testified against the bill. Monsanto is the corporation holding patents for “Round-Up Ready” genetically modified seed. This legislation would have given farmers the opportunity to save seed from their harvest for the planting for the next season.

A number of farmers and the Missouri Farmer’s Union testified in favor of the bill, while Monsanto and, surprisingly, Missouri Farmer Bureau, testified against it. One legislator asked Farm Bureau if it were representing farmers or lawyers and corporations.

Why did Farm Bureau oppose a bill that would have unquestionably benefited its members? I’m not sure.

Each year Monsanto files cases against farmers. In fact, the corporation investigates at least five hundred farmers for patent infringement. It has formed a department of seventy-five employees for investigating and prosecuting farmers for patent “infringement“. The department has a toll-free phone number that allows farmers and businesses to place confidential calls to the company to report suspected “infringement” activities by neighbors. A lot of these farmers don’t buy “Round-up Ready” seed, but are sued for growing it without paying. Sometimes the seed just blows over from neighboring farms, or it has sprouted from the previous year. If the department is suspicious of a farmer, it will hire a private investigating firm to pursue the farmer. Some of the money Monsanto wins from these cases is given to Farm Bureau for scholarships. Once again, is Farm Bureau representing individual farmers or corporations? Shouldn’t Farm Bureau defend the farmer being sued instead of taking money from Monsanto?

Farm Bureau has strengthened the agriculture industry in several ways. It was supportive in the removal of the state sales tax on farm machinery. The organization sponsors county meetings and state conferences for young farmers with emphasis on leadership training. The organization also formed a farm safety and awareness program. It has helped in the advancement of agriculture in many other ways, too. These programs have proven successful because they are in line with the Bureau’s philosophy.

Farm Bureau began as a grassroots organization, with a plan to serve the needs of farmers and make big strides in the advancement of agriculture. An organization which brings unity among farmers to fight for legislation is needed, but what legislation are farmers going to lobby? What is the challenge? Farm Bureau needs to know what is worth fighting for, what serves its purpose, and who they are serving. When the Bureau strays from its philosophical underpinnings, its very reason for existence, its motives, and goals are questioned. Helen Keller once said, “ True happiness is attained through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” If Farm Bureau is to be successful in leading the challenge in the 21st century it must remain faithful to its original purpose, which is to help the individual farmers of this great country.



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