With membership at a record level, strong grassroots leadership and a well-earned legacy of supporting Iowa’s farmers and rural communities, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) is well-positioned to lead the way in creating a better future in the state and meeting the wide range of challenges facing agriculture today, said Craig Hill, IFBF president.

"We all stand on the shoulders of those who have made this organization what it is today," Hill told members at the 2015 Iowa Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting last week in Des Moines. "Improving opportunities for farm and rural communities, and broadening our influence as a result of our united and continuous efforts, we are growing for the greater good," he said echoing the theme of the IFBF’s 97th annual meeting.

Building a strong and vibrant organization is a continuous pro­­cess that involves everyone throughout the Farm Bureau organization making a positive impact, Hill said. That impact, he said, "is intended to be felt first and foremost, at the local level: at home and in your communities, where you live, work and play."

The IFBF president, who was re-elected for a two-year term at the annual meeting’s delegate session, highlighted the organization’s membership strength. Farm Bureau membership in Iowa is at 159,371 families, the highest level since the founding of the organization 97 years ago, he said, and Farm Bureau has gained membership 14 consecutive years.

"Despite declining rural demographics, we have more and more people who seek the value of membership," Hill said.

The grassroots strength also stems from outstanding work by the 100 county Farm Bureaus across the state, Hill said. That work included ag tours, promotions and demonstrations around conservation and water quality issues, he said.

Policy successes

County involvement leads to a strong policy development process that makes a positive impact at both the state and national levels, Hill said.

A shining example of that impact occurred in February 2015, when Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill to provide $215 million per year of protected funds to address Iowa’s deteriorating roads and bridges, he said.

"This was a major legislative accomplishment for us all and will go into our archives as a major accomplishment," Hill told members.

During the 2015 session of the Iowa Legislature, Farm Bureau’s influence also showed through in continued state support for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Hill said. The $25 million appropriated by the legislature will continue progress in soil conservation and water quality improvement, he said.

Farm Bureau, Hill noted, continues to invest in Iowa’s future by supporting young people in agriculture. Those investments in 2015 included more than $500,000 in scholarships and $100,000 that was extended to the Iowa FFA Foundation, as well as support for academics, athletics, arts and more, he said.

Building rural vitality

Along with supporting farmers of all ages, Farm Bureau continues to build rural communities through its Renew Rural Iowa program and rural vitality funds, which have invested in 13 companies around the state that represent more than 300 jobs, Hill said.

The IFBF is also building a reputation of fostering rural entrepreneurs through IFBF’s Renew Rural Iowa program, which hit a milestone this year with a total economic impact of the program surpassing $125 million for the state’s rural communities.

Iowa Farm Bureau, Hill said, is also meeting the challenges that farmers in Iowa face today from overregulation, animal and environmental activists and the lawsuit filed against three northwest Iowa counties by the Des Moines Water Works.

"While farmers never asked to be drawn into this battleground, we find ourselves in one — political, legal, ethical, and moral — and we can’t just avoid this debate," Hill said. "It’s unfortunate that people think they need to place a villain’s mask on farmers in order to disparage our science-proven best practices. That’s why Farm Bureau is engaged on all fronts to counter these fraudulent claims.

"No one can fully tell the story of agriculture better than a farmer. It is up to us. We need to tell the story instead of letting someone else define who we are and what we do," Hill added.

Tribute to Kleckner

The current IFBF president closed with a tribute to Dean Kleckner, former IFBF and Amer­ican Farm Bureau president, who passed away earlier this year.

"Dean was not only the type of individual that left you feeling better than before, he left our organization and American agriculture a little better than before," Hill said. "A master story teller, who never wavered on Farm Bureau policy. A man who dedicated much of his life in pursuit of open borders around the world, visiting 82 countries. Dean will truly be missed."