Active members help Farm Bureau endure
In San Diego this week, 126 delegates from 53 county Farm Bureaus gather for the California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting — the 100th time volunteer farm leaders from around the state have met to discuss, debate and set policies that will guide our organization in the year ahead.
At this time 100 years ago, CFBF remained only an idea.
Ultimately, the 32 existing county Farm Bureaus in California reached the conclusion that they needed to form a statewide federation in order to act effectively on issues confronting farmers and ranchers.
A few months later, in October 1919, the California Farm Bureau Federation held its organizational meeting—its first Annual Meeting—in Berkeley.
A key figure in the formation of CFBF, California Agricultural Extension Service founder B.H. Crocheron, told that first Annual Meeting that the commitment of individual members to the organization’s goals would be key to its success.
If he or the first CFBF president, W.H. Walker of Glenn County, could come back to see what the organization looks like 99-plus years later, I suspect they’d be simultaneously stunned by and familiar with what they would see.
Certainly, farmers and ranchers now have agricultural and communications technology that our predecessors could only dream of, and crop patterns have changed markedly. For example, California grew about a million acres of barley in 1918 but pistachios were still an experimental crop. California’s 100 million acres of land accommodated a population of 3.2 million then, not the 40 million of today.
But certainly, Crocheron and Walker would recognize many of the challenges we face: weather, markets, regulations, the uncertainties of water supply, the struggle to hire enough qualified employees, and others.
I think Farm Bureau’s founders would be impressed by the sophisticated way our organization works to address those challenges through advocacy with government officials, the courts and the media.
In its early years, CFBF formed a Law and Utilities Department to advocate for its members, and the organization moved from Berkeley to Sacramento in 1979 in order to make that advocacy more immediate and effective. This year, CFBF engaged with every elected official in the California Legislature and in our congressional delegation; our advocates filed more than 3,600 pages of letters, legal briefs and comments on dozens of different issues; and our work with utility regulators saved approximately $65 million in potential rate increases for agricultural electricity customers.
In the 1920s, CFBF provided farm news via motion pictures and radio broadcasts. This year, CFBF sent some 600 tweets; responded to more than 500 inquiries from local, regional, national and international media; reached approximately 1.5 million nonfarm viewers through our California Bountiful television program; and kept members informed via Ag Alert, video, websites, email and other forms of communication.
CFBF formed an Organization Department in 1929 to help county Farm Bureaus with membership recruitment and retention, and began offering insurance benefits in the 1940s. Now, Farm Bureau members in California can take advantage of nearly three-dozen separate member benefits on equipment, supplies, business services and more, as well as insurance through our partners at Nationwide. In 2019, CFBF will create a Member Advocacy Department that will better equip us to customize member benefits to the individual and, more importantly, understand more fully what our members need.
Organizations that endure, as Farm Bureau has, must adapt, and those examples show how CFBF has changed to meet the shifting needs of farmers and ranchers.
At the same time, Farm Bureau remains focused on its basic mission, as laid out in the articles of incorporation drafted in 1919: to work for solutions for the problems of the farm, the farm home and the rural community and to represent, protect and advance the social, economic and educational interests of California farmers.
When I stood before delegates to the Annual Meeting last year, and asked for their votes to become the 16th CFBF president, I noted that Farm Bureau is strong because of our diversity. Now, as I complete my first year in office, I’m more convinced of that than ever.
Each year at this time, farmers and ranchers come together, from the south, from the north, from the coast, from the mountains and everywhere in between, to establish California Farm Bureau policies. The Annual Meeting culminates a months-long process. Volunteer leaders devote more than 1,500 hours during the year to craft and update our policies.
Those many volunteer hours underline a point B.H. Crocheron made at the founding Annual Meeting in 1919: In order for CFBF to succeed, he said, it needed to have the “right kind of membership.” As he saw it, the organization needed “active” members to carry it forward.
He was right, as this week’s 100th Annual Meeting will demonstrate. A Farm Bureau member in 1919 was the same as today: not content merely to accept the current political landscape but insistent on making it better for farmers and ranchers.
At the end of the week, when we adopt our policies for the new year, Farm Bureau will be ready to move forward into its 100th year solidifying its longstanding role as the unified voice of California agriculture — a voice that serves not simply to make a statement but to make a difference for California’s rural communities. I’m confident the original CFBF delegates from 1919 would be proud.