A look at the 104th AFBF Convention through Wyoming eyes – January 12, 2023
“Being part of this grassroots organization is empowering because it gives us the knowledge to understand agricultural issues and adversities and gives us a tool to help drive policies which affect all farmers and ranchers,” said Kathy and Russ Austin of Albany County. “Attending the AFBF Convention in Puerto Rico allowed us to see the whole picture. We would love it if all members could experience this opportunity.”
The 104th Annual Convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation was January 6-11, 2023 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wyoming was well represented at the convention with the Fornstroms from Laramie County; the Coxbills from Goshen County; the Austins from Albany County; the Bergers from Carbon County; the Ziehls from Natrona County; and the Hamiltons from the state office.
Carbon County ranchers Kyle and Stacy Berger have attended multiple national meetings and said this convention was another great one filled with great content on what Farm Bureau is fighting for at the national level. “We are thankful for those who are in leadership at AFBF,” said Kyle Berger. “They are our voice in some very difficult issues. They are there to convey our interests so we can stay in production agriculture.”
Natrona County farmers Chad and Nicole Ziehl found national convention exciting. “It was a nice balance of education and discussion about topics affecting us,” Nicole Ziehl said.
All Wyoming attendees noted the educational workshops were a valuable portion of the convention.
“Our favorite part of the AFBF convention was the workshop/panel discussion “Farm Bureau takes California to the Supreme Court,” said the Austins. “It was exciting to see what happens at the next level and what processes are involved in fighting some of these legal battles.”
“More than that, it showed us that even though farmers and ranchers represent only 2% of the population, we are six million strong with a whole army of members, officers, lobbyists and legal teams to go to the next level when needed,” they continued. “Knowing they have our backs gives hope for the future of agriculture.”
Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation President Todd Fornstrom appreciated seeing the complete picture with everybody from all over the nation in a concentrated spot at convention. “It is the reward at the end of the year and so nice to have each different group of Farm Bureau members getting recharged,” he said. “The national convention is a great place to watch members finding new inspiration for the work that is completed back home in their counties for Farm Bureau and agriculture.”
The convention theme “Mi Familia” matched the love of family that resonates with Farm Bureau Federation members. Whether it is your immediate family, the board of directors family you serve with or your fellow Farm Bureau member family, there is a strong connection to serve agriculture and to make it even stronger for future generations.
The Austins enjoyed meeting so many like-minded people. “As stated many times at the convention, it really is like one large family,” Kathy said. “It was an honor and a privilege to attend the AFBF convention. We were also able to spend some quality time with other members and officers from Wyoming.”
“For all of us to get together at the national convention and network, relax and genuinely have a fun time is invaluable,” Fornstrom stated. “Families grow up in Farm Bureau and share family time with meeting travel. Our kids have always talked about the experiences at Farm Bureau events.”
Coxbill agreed that having family at the national convention was very special. “For Sammie and I to have our kids with us and show them what we do when we are away at a national convention was wonderful,” he said.
Renewing friendships is a favorite part of national convention. “I enjoyed talking to old friends and catching up,” Coxbill said.
The Ziehls shared the location of the convention was their favorite. “Puerto Rico was incredible and relaxing,” said the Ziehls. “We also loved riding the shuttle buses because we could visit with other Farm Bureau attendees.”
“We enjoyed comparing lives with people from other states,” they shared. “We found commonality and comradery with others battling weather, drought, commodity prices, and other struggles. Chad had fun connecting with people from Minnesota and Georgia who know and work with some of his family members.”
Another highlight of convention is the keynote speeches that provide inspiration. Fornstrom noted the “Life is Good” speaker Bert Jacobs shared a good story about the American Dream. “His mother looked for the good in each day, always asking her kids ‘What was good about the day?’” Fornstrom explained. “That question and catch-phrase led to him being the co-founder of a multi-million dollar company.”
“His message ties with the resiliency of people in agriculture,” Fornstrom continued. “You are better off to look for the good in every day then to focus on the bad; such a great reminder during hard and good times.”
The Austins echoed the sentiments about Jacobs’ keynote speech. “It made us realize how fortunate we are,” the Austins said. “He is a unique and special person.”
The AFBF Annual Voting Delegate Session wraps up the AFBF Convention each year. WyFB has two voting delegates; WyFB President Todd Fornstrom and WyFB Vice President Cole Coxbill.
Coxbill said the feeling of sitting on the national voting delegate floor with hundreds of delegates from across the nation is hard to put into just a few words. “It’s cool to be an individual Farm Bureau Federation member sitting on the floor of the voting delegates knowing that other individual members back in Wyoming have developed policy locally in Wyoming,” he explained. “Discussing resolutions at the national level and knowing each resolution started with a single member taking the issue to their county meeting is rewarding. It is so neat to see the culmination of the year’s work.”
Fornstrom explained the national resolutions process is similar to the state level where there is a resolutions committee and then the delegate session. “People are very passionate when they talk about what is on their mind,” he said. “It is always an honor to represent Wyoming policy on the national level.”
According to Fornstrom, three Wyoming policies were passed and added to the national policy book. The policy topics: federal and private land trades; domestic sheep grazing and environmental social governance scores.
Regarding the land trades, AFBF voting delegates passed policy calling for support of government agencies in prioritizing and simplifying land trades for landowners looking to establish contiguous blocks of private land thus improving access to public land and eliminating corner crossing issues.
Regarding domestic sheep grazing, voting delegates added wording to livestock grazing policy to note that any agency decisions to remove domestic sheep grazing from federal lands must be based on sound peer reviewed science.
Regarding fiscal policy, many states brought concern regarding Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) scores. The national voting delegates supported the Wyoming resolution opposing the implementation of ESG scores.
“We appreciated seeing the issues discussed at our state meetings being reviewed nationally,” Nicole Ziehl said. “Whether you are a plantain grower in Puerto Rico or an alfalfa farmer in Wyoming, you have a voice in Ag Policy development. We saw proof of this work at the convention.”