AFB President Zippy Duvall on farming as a brotherhood

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As a third-generation Georgia dairy farmer — an occupation he likened to “riding a freight train” — and president of the American Farm Bureau, Zippy Duvall is intimately familiar with the issues facing agriculture.

He’s traveled through 28 states, meeting with farmers and gaining a growing understanding of the threats to America’s farms and food supply. Last week Duvall flew to Oahu to address the 69th annual Hawaii Farm Bureau convention.

“We know what goes on in these islands and this state,” Duvall told conventioneers. “The Hawaii Farm Bureau and Hawaii agriculture is extremely important to America and extremely important to this world.”

Duvall spoke of the critical need for farmers to get involved. “Like my Daddy said, you’ve got to get involved outside your fence rows, even though it’s not something you want to do, and even though it’s not something you’re comfortable with.”

Shaping public opinion is just as important as influencing policy-making, he said. Since less than 2% of Americans farm, the public is unaware of farmers’ struggles to produce healthy and affordable food.

“Unity is important,” he said. “We have to unite and be able to tell our stories together. We’re really at war. Each time you go to one of those meetings it’s just another battle in that war. When emotion and passion can overcome sound science, there’s something wrong with the system.”

Duvall addressed a number of issues affecting farmers. He said the Trans-Pacific Partnership could bring $4.4 billion to American agriculture — including $10 million to Hawaii — through lower tariffs and greater access to foreign markets.

The AFB is also starting to prepare farmers and consumers for implementation of the stringent new Food Safety Modernization Act, he said, and is working to reduce the regulatory burden that makes it hard for farmers to succeed.

And while the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species Acts “were needed at the time they were passed, they’ve morphed into something more and they’re taking our private property away,” Duvall said. These laws are now hurting farming, with little to no environmental benefit.

The AFB is also a strong advocate for agricultural technology.

“We understand how important it is for a farmer to use new technology,” he said. “There’s no way we can continue to feed the growing population on the land we’ve got, and the environmentalists won’t let us expand our acreage. So we’ve got to become more efficient. We’re gonna fight for the right to continue to use those technologies. And that leads me to how valuable Hawaii is being the host to those [seed] companies. That provides such a value to American agriculture. I don’t know how you put a price tag on that.”

Duvall ended by sharing a compelling story about his son, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who served 17 months in Iraq and led a dangerous mission to rescue a wounded soldier, his brother in arms.

“We are a family of brothers in agriculture,” Duvall said. “We’ve got farmers on that gurney today. Your farm, my farm, could be on that gurney tomorrow. We as a brotherhood have got to have each other’s backs. We’re at war, and our national security is at stake. This is serious business. If we don’t seize the moment to band together, we will no longer exist.”