More Than 300 Gather for Annual Meeting
COLONIE, N.Y. — Simply touting Farm Bureau’s benefits and what it does is no longer enough to attract new members.
The organization must sell people on why it’s important — things such as developing future farmers, promoting rural economies and protecting farm lifestyles.
That’s what Executive Director Jeff Kirby told the more than 300 delegates gathered at New York Farm Bureau’s state annual meeting, Dec. 4-6, at The Desmond Resort & Conference Center.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” he said. “You need to lead with the why,’ communicating what your purpose is, what your cause is and what you believe in. That is what people care about. That is what will inspire them to take action and become a member.”
Of New York Farm Bureau’s 25,000 members, about 15,000 are farmers. The rest are a cross-section of people who support the group’s goals.
There are an estimated 36,000 farmers in New York, meaning that about 11,000 don’t belong to the organization.
“Why are we apparently not connecting with these people in a way that would make them want to join Farm Bureau?” Kirby said. “Why don’t people seem to get it?”
One of the organization’s main goals is lobbying on behalf of farmers on legislative issues critical to agriculture, at both the state and federal level. Boosting membership rolls is important to that effort, President Dean Norton said.
This year, 1,800 new people joined Farm Bureau.
“There is strength in numbers,” he said. “Having that large number will give us more ammunition as we take our fight to capitol halls in Washington, D.C. and Albany.”
The three-day convention featured numerous panel discussions such as “Land as Your Legacy,” which stressed the importance of having a well-developed, formal transition plan to pass farms from one generation to the next.
In the presentation “Fish! Catch the Energy, Release the Potential!,” John Torres of American Farm Bureau Federation told how fun, creative workplaces can stimulate business, modeled after a popular Seattle fish market.
Workers compensation, immigration policy and labor discussions were also well-attended.
Among the high-profile officials in attendance were state Agriculture Commissioner Darrel Aubertine, Assembly Agriculture Committee Chairman Bill Magee and Keith Eckel, board chairman of Nationwide Insurance, which became Farm Bureau’s new insurance provider and partner this year.
Norton praised the company for its swift, thorough response to people affected by Hurricane Sandy. Drought, flood and frost also plagued many farmers in 2012.
“It’s been an especially trying year,” Norton said.
However, he pointed to significant gains and accomplishments, such as the “summits” that Gov. Andrew Cuomo held in Albany to promote New York’s fast-growing Greek yogurt, wine and brewery industries.
“For the first time I know of, New York is rolling back regulations,” he said. “But we can’t rest on our laurels. There are big obstacles in our path.”
Specific areas of concern include a proposed New York State Thruway toll hike, the possibility of increased minimum wage and looming environmental regulations. A potential Clean Water Act change would greatly expand the definition of navigable waters to the point that farmers might have to obtain expensive permits to work on certain parts of their fields. Farm Bureau is lobbying federal lawmakers to keep this from happening.
“We have strong allies on both sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C., and Albany,” Norton said.
Among this year’s accomplishments, Farm Bureau successfully lobbied to keep new federal child labor regulations from taking effect that would have prevented young teens from performing routine farm tasks, which they need to learn to become the farmers of tomorrow.
“We even secured a promise from the White House that we won’t see this come up again during the president’s second term,” Norton said.
However, he said it’s important for Farm Bureau to keep growing in numbers so that it can strengthen its role as the “Voice of Agriculture” for farmers in New York and throughout the country.
“You are the foot soldiers who carry the message every day to strengthen agriculture for all of us,” Norton told delegates.