Duvall talks trade but will emphasize ag labor to Trump

AFBF president Zippy Duvall emphasized trade and encouraged members to send trade tweets, but says immigration is at the top of his messages to carry to Trump.

Holly Spangler, Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer

January 8, 2018

3 Min Read
TRADE TALK: AFBF President Zippy Duvall says of President Donald Trump, “This man is a business man and he understands that we need to move our products to the 95% of people that lie outside of our country.”Holly Spangler

Some 7,000 members of the American Farm Bureau Federation congregated in Nashville over the weekend for the 99th annual AFBF convention, which kicked off at the Opryland Hotel. The hot topics for nearly everyone include President Trump’s impending visit on Monday, ongoing NAFTA trade negotiations and the pending Farm Bill – and what the President might say about either topic.

AFBF president Zippy Duvall, a Georgia farmer, welcomed the membership during its opening session on Sunday, telling them that with the new administration, “Things have changed a lot in Washington, D.C. The door to this administration opened up for farmers and ranchers on day one.”

Duvall said Ray Starling, special assistant to the President for agriculture, trade and food assistance, promised him agriculture would have a seat at the table with the Trump administration.

“We’ve made real progress on some of our biggest issues because agriculture has been united,” Duvall added, who’s served as AFBF president during both the Obama and Trump administrations.

“I can tell you that it has been a breath of fresh air to be able to advocate for getting things done, instead of having to constantly defend agriculture against a steady stream of challenges from our own government,” he said. Duvall pointed to progress in “ditching” the Waters of the U.S. rule, and the reduction in size of two land monuments in Utah that were enlarged during the previous administration and reduced access to grazing land and water resources. He also spoke confidently of the new tax code reforms.

“We didn’t get the elimination of the estate tax but we got the exemption doubled. That will take out 99% of farmers that might face that situation,” he said, adding it’s a temporary fix that AFBF would like to see become permanent. “We picture this new tax code as really encouraging to help us pass our farms on and keep people on the land.”


TWEET IT: Duvall asked AFBF members at Sunday’s opening session to take out their phones and tweet the president about how important NAFTA is to their operation. Within minutes, hundreds of tweets were delivered.

When pressed on what he might tell President Trump should he have the chance, Duvall had a running list. Most notably, trade was not at the top.

“After thank yous, I’m going to roll immediately to the biggest problem that faces American agriculture and that’s immigration. Farmers are worrying about whether they’ll have enough people to get the job done. That’s the biggest limiting factor on the farm, and it’s the biggest limiting factor on bringing the next generation back,” Duvall said.

After that? “Then I will tell him the people in the room are nervous about trade. None of us know what’s going on behind closed doors,” he said, adding, “All we know is this President told me and 15 others in the Roosevelt Room that we’d be happy with what came out of it.”

Duvall recognizes that the North American Free Trade Agreement is more than 20 years old and needs adjustments but is also concerned that renegotiating it is distracting trade officials from focusing on new markets and new bilateral or multilateral trade deals. He says AFBF continues to emphasize to officials that most of the world’s population lives outside the U.S. and farmers need to be able to trade with them. 

Next – if he has time – will be the farm bill. “We need to make sure they know how important risk management tools like crop insurance are to our farmers.”

Duvall is also concerned about crucial positions that remain open and unfilled throughout USDA and EPA.

“How they do anything with one hand tied behind their back, I don’t know. It’s almost a miracle they can get done what they are. We want to get these appointments moving forward.

“Our country needs full staffing and our people deserve it.”


About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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