As the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) enters its centennial year, President Craig Hill urged members to build on their organization’s proud legacy by continuing to innovate, by becoming more active in Farm Bureau’s grassroots process and to never give up on the will to succeed.

“We’re an organization of ‘yes.’ We’re proactively seeking positive pathways to progress,” Hill said in his address at the 99th IFBF annual meeting held last week in Des Moines. “We pay tribute here today to those who respect the past and embrace the future, because both are needed to keep the business of farming and the family going strong.”

Hill challenged members to become more involved to help solve pressing issues, like improving water quality and supporting sustainable livestock production. He urged members to build on Farm Bureau’s grassroots strength to improve agriculture and Iowa’s rural communities. And he encouraged Farm Bureau members to continue to reach out to consumers and others to help them understand how innovation is helping farmers grow more food, fuel and fiber with less environmental impact.

Hill highlighted the theme of the 2017 IFBF annual meeting: “Born to Lead. The Will to Succeed.” “It is fitting as we gather and take stock of where we’ve been and where we hope to go as Iowa’s leading grassroots farm organization,” he said.

Building on the past

The ongoing success of the Iowa Farm Bureau, Hill said, was built by courageous and visionary men and women. “They were farmers and they were rural Iowans who shaped our direction,” he said.

The IFBF president highlighted James R. Howard, a formidable county leader who became the first president of the IFBF and later the first president of the newly-formed American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). As the pioneer era of farming ended, Howard of Marshall County knew that farmers could have a much more powerful voice by being united and working together, Hill said.

“He sought a united and powerful organization, and he got it,” Hill told members attending the IFBF annual meeting.

Hill also cited former IFBF President Alan Kline, who helped give farmers a voice in farm bill discussions by debating the U.S. secretary of agriculture on live radio. “He won the hearts and minds of the country, and to this day, lawmakers expect farmers to be a part of farm bill discussions.”

Hill also cited the work of other Farm Bureau pioneers, including: Francis Johnson, who built membership in the organization while helping to bring electricity to rural Iowa; Ruth Buxton Sayre, who worked tirelessly to support Farm Bureau and encouraged women to be a strong part of the organization; and E. Howard Hill, the longest-serving IFBF president and grandfather of Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey.

“In the years that followed these great early leaders, there have been many Iowa farmers who have been at the center of national ag policy, overseeing the expansion of our trading borders, that assures that we keep our ‘foot in the door’ when it comes to farm bill policy today,” Hill said. “It is our history, our grassroots-led policies, our hard work, our ag successes that have kept us credible as a voice for agriculture.”

Today’s challenges

But just as those past leaders faced challenges, farmers today face new challenges and rely on a strong and united Farm Bureau to support them, Hill said. He noted how county Farm Bureau leaders around the state have stepped up to help consumers understand how food is raised, worked to protect property taxpayers and support their rural communities through IFBF’s Renew Rural Iowa program.

The effort to support livestock included several Farm Bureau members who volunteered this year to speak to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission and counter activists, who pushed for rule changes that would have threatened the sustainability of all livestock farms in the state.

“They stepped up, shared their stories and helped raise awareness of how these activist-led tactics would affect their way of life,” Hill said. “And they are helping to turn the tide against those who attempt to block livestock farming in Iowa.”

Farm Bureau members are also stepping up for conservation and water quality, the IFBF president said. A recent survey of members showed that 87 percent are using conservation practices on their farm and 71 percent plan to apply new conservation practices in the next five years.

That dedication to protect soil and water continues despite the downturn in commodity markets, Hill said. The members survey showed that 73 percent of members surveyed are spending their own money to apply conservation practices, he said.

A vibrant future

The dedication of Farm Bureau members also showed through in the recent work to develop the Iowa Farm Bureau Legacy Plan, which will guide the organization in the coming years, Hill said. Some 800 leaders from all over Iowa provided input for the nine-member task force that developed the plan, he noted. The plan’s new mission statement: “To create a vibrant future for agriculture, farm families and their communities,” points to a strong and vibrant future for the 100-year-old organization, he said.

“Let’s face it, Iowa farmers do all those things better than anyone else in the nation, and it is largely because we embrace innovation,” Hill said. “It’s our ‘can-do’ attitude. We never give up; it’s our ‘Will to Succeed!”