WFBF is state’s largest general farm organization

Jim Holte
President WI Farm Bureau Federation
Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Jim Holte addresses the audience gathered at the organization’s 97th Annual Meeting in Wisconsin Dells, December 4.

Every family has a tradition. For some it’s gathering on Saturday and/or Sundays for football. For others it might be using grandma’s fine china for Thanksgiving or sitting as a family in church on Christmas Eve. For Gayle and me it’s time spent with our daughters and their families. For those who know me, they know how much I enjoy the “little people” in my life.

We like to refer to our membership as the Farm Bureau family. Now I won’t ask you to name the odd uncle or the crazy aunt… but I think it is safe to say that we all bring something different to this organization that is important and special. Our Farm Bureau family members vary in talent, age and agricultural experience and that’s what makes us unique and successful.

Within our Farm Bureau family we have various - I guess we could call them cousins - who make us even stronger because they bring even more stability, diversity and skill sets to the table.

Partnerships play important role

Our affiliate company, Rural Mutual Insurance, is a stable, strong and service-focused company. They strive to exceed customer expectations. As one of the top 50 property and casualty companies in the country, they provide a full-line of insurance products exclusively to families, businesses and farms in Wisconsin, including many of us here in this room. Better yet, since Rural Mutual does business only in Wisconsin, premiums paid here, stay here.

Their partnership plays an important role in our success and I thank them for their support.

Through our relationship with Farm Bureau Life, Rural Mutual Insurance agents have the ability to deliver a complete line of life insurance products to our members. This product line that they offer is important because it completes the circle of services delivered by your local agent.

Keeping up with changes

Another cousin of Farm Bureau is GROWMARK Inc. and local provider INSIGHT FS.

It’s no surprise to you that agriculture is blossoming in all sorts of ways when it comes to technology. Data, machinery, communications, sales… the list goes on and on. Goals across our industry are being set higher and higher. In order to succeed, companies have to keep up and GROWMARK has. They grow with agriculture. They have kept up with the ongoing changes in our industry and the evolution of agriculture as a whole. Not only have they kept up, but in most cases, they have led the charge with new and innovative technologies that make us in the agriculture community stronger. Farm Bureau is thankful that they are a strong leader in the industry and a powerful partner.

Within our state Farm Bureau, we have four departments that each have certain undertakings. I guess we could call these the Farm Bureau siblings.

Our operations department is the child who excels at math… and are we ever thankful for that. More than ever our finances are stable allowing us to boldly plan for the future. The WFBF Board and Operations team take pride in our conservative financial approach. Our previous leadership has led us to this place of financial stability. I appreciate the foundation they laid so that we can have broad options for our financial future.

Lines of communication

Our Government Relations department carries a strong reputation in Madison and Washington, D.C.. This didn’t happen overnight. A combination of talented and trustworthy staff and dedicated and passionate members who understand the importance of communicating to our government officials has made this happen.

Items our members and governmental relations team are currently working on include our state’s transportation funding, high capacity wells, water quality, local affairs and on the national level, the 2018 Farm Bill and immigration.

Farmers and agriculturists need reliable roads to get their products to market. For too long we have been borrowing funds at unsustainable levels for maintaining and building roads. While this was in recognition of financial challenges, no longer can that be an option. We need to look for solutions to this problem. Our delegates laid out numerous options last year to address the transportation fund, and we will continue to build on those as we seek ways to fix this problem and not just put a band aid on it.

Speaking of “fixing it”. The Transportation Development Association, in partnership with groups like the Wisconsin Towns Association, Counties Association and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, are leading the way with a public relations campaign to support a sustainable transportation funding system. The “Just Fix It” campaign is highlighting some of the major issues and deficiencies our transportation system currently faces. Along with their 72-county “Turnout for Transportation” local community forums they held on September 29, that I know many of you participated in, a big part of this campaign is the sharing of personal stories from citizens all across the state about deficient roads and bridges that impact how we do our jobs and move our products from farm to market. These testimonials will then be shared with our elected officials so they know this is a very real problem affecting real people. I encourage you to visit and share your story.

To supplement their work, another group has formed in which I serve as a board member. The group is called Devote Resources…Invest for a Vibrant Economy, or DRIVE for short. This group is made up of dozens of trade associations from the agriculture, manufacturing and tourism industries, private business groups, local government associations and many others absolutely devoted to a strong, sustainable and vibrant transportation network.

Tools ensure success

No matter the size of your farm, a variety of tools are needed to ensure your success. It’s common sense that to raise livestock and grow crops you need water. All farmers should be able to have access to the tools they need to run a business no matter their size. Farmers have many options including irrigation when it comes to building their business and profitability. One thing is for sure. A clear, reliable process for permitting high capacity wells need to be in place for farms of all sizes, so we can continue to do our job of growing food for our communities.

Following on the theme of water, farmers have a long-term commitment to the quality of water that sustains their families and farms. Farmers live on the land that is their livelihood. It’s encouraging to see farmer-led watershed projects form and joint community efforts building across the state towards the cause of water quality. This topic is important to you and I encourage you to get involved in your area of the state.

Speaking of involvement, if there was ever a time to reach out to your local officials and town and county boards, it’s now. In a time that local groups and government are suggesting bans on various agricultural practices, we NEED more feet on the ground. We have to reach out to committees and boards to become a resource on these matters. Nothing is more devastating than to hear about bans and new regulations last minute. By staying involved at the local level you can be the first line of defense for our leadership when farming topics arise.

It’s hard to imagine that it’s THAT time again… the discussions have already started for the 2018 farm bill. We have already had a few discussions as to what we would like to see included via input from our members. We know that it needs to stay closely connected to the SNAP program because that program gives us some common ground and opportunity for broad support. Some programs within the 2013 Farm Bill experienced a major redesign. The dairy margin protection program is one program that has been heavily criticized. We will continue to listen to your concerns and look for solutions to improve its effectiveness. We know that the last farm bill was crafted during a time of strong prices but that is not true today. We truly need to think strategically so we give farmers the tools they need to manage the highs and lows that come along with farming.

With the new President-Elect, we will also be keeping a close eye on the immigration discussions happening in Washington. We will continue to advocate for an ag visa worker program.

Sharing our story

We could talk all day on the issues facing agriculture… but let’s switch gears…

The public relations division also has goals that it’s working towards. Most of its responsibilities are complimentary to the other Farm Bureau siblings.

We have an extreme amount of diversity in our membership between ages, commodity involvement and communication preferences. Our public relations department will continue to improve our communication to our voting members, associate members and partners. This communication is what fosters our important relationship with you all. Your county newsletters, the award-winning Rural Route magazine and postcards are all products of this team. To cut to the chase… they make us look good.

You’ve been encouraged numerous times to get out there and tell your agriculture story. Our communications team provides you the tools and resources you need to be successful in that endeavor.

The public relations department keeps us in the lines of fire we want to be in, and out of the ones we don’t. They understand that it is important to play offense and share information with our media partners rather than play defense.

We are blessed to have excellent state-wide agricultural publications and our communications team works closely with them as well. We thank them for working hard to keep the farmers and agriculturists around the state informed.

We could call the member relations division the social sibling. Working  with our members and helping our county Farm Bureaus to build membership and carry out their local program of work is where this sibling focuses its energy.

Membership has to be a priority in our organization, because that is how we sustain ourselves.

People come first in Farm Bureau and you see that reflected not just through member relations but our whole organization. You all, our members, are our most important asset.

Many traditions in Farm Bureau exist on the county level. I would bet that for some of you your fair food stand is a summer staple and a fun tradition. Whether it’s a dance or a picnic, some events have become annual Farm Bureau events as well. I would argue that this event – The WFBF Annual Meeting and YFA Conference is one of the most anticipated.

You are our future

Once again it is motivating to see so many young Farm Bureau leaders at this event. You are our future. We are so happy you are here and want to do our best to give you the tools to succeed in the ag community.

The Young Farmer and Agriculturist, and Promotion and Education programs, the collegiate Farm Bureaus and the leadership institute are all initiatives in place to groom our leaders. I highly encourage you to get involved and find your role in Farm Bureau.

You will be hearing more about the 2x4 member campaign in the coming months. This campaign challenges each of us to sign two new Farm Bureau members by the beginning of April 2017. If you’ve stopped by the 2 x 4 campaign display in the trade show, you’ve seen that hundreds of members across the state have already taken the challenge. If we all took time to sign two members, think about the growth we could have. I challenge you to take part. I will be.

The diversity in our county and state Farm Bureau makes us stronger not weaker. We are all part of one family, but like children from a particular family, each county Farm Bureau has its own unique personality, talents and challenges.  As a general farm organization, we support all types of farmers and having unique perspectives makes us a valuable organization in more ways than one.

You might be asking yourself… where do I fit in this Farm Bureau family?

You are our eyes and ears. You are our motivation, inspiration and drive. You are our morals and values. You are what makes the system run and the heartbeat.

I can say this with the utmost confidence. We are a strong family with deep traditions working hard to better Wisconsin agriculture. I’m glad we are in this together, to build each other up in rough times and to celebrate our successes in happy times. I am thankful you all are part of this family.