Monday, December 04, 2006

Oregon Farm Bureau kicks off in Bend

While Gary checks out the rodeo finals in Las Vegas, I'm in Bend, Ore. as the Oregon Farm Bureau annual meeting kicks off at the Riverhouse Resort.

While he covers the excitement of cowboys getting bucked off, delegates here and other state farm bureau meetings at this time of year make decisions that impact what happens to those farms and ranches that may be home to some of those cowboys.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is the most powerful agricultural lobbying group in America — indeed, in the world — and it starts with the grassroots. Each year, beginning with the local farm bureaus, debates are held on what policies should be adopted to represent the best interests of agriculture in the country.

From the county farm bureaus, the opinions of the members rise to regional, state and eventually to the national level, where their representatives decide what will be their policy on important issues ranging from world trade organizations to animal identification to what they would like in the next Farm Bill.

The process involving the grassroots means that politicians cannot ignore this organization later: AFBF represents farmers and ranchers from different geographical areas but also of many different commodities. California Farm Bureau, for example, represents a state that has more than 300 agricultural commodities: to speak with one voice at the state and later the national level on behalf of its members is impressive.

The state farm bureau meetings are often ignored by the majority of the media who would rather not spend several days listening to a long list of resolutions. However, the meetings can be fascinating, sometimes by what is said at the microphone ... but more often witnesssing what is happening at the tables, in the back of the room, or even in the hallways as there continues to be debates, political moves, and strategies developed on how to get certain resolutions to the floor of the House of Delegates — or more importantly, passed by the House.

There are some new delegates this year, but also delegates who have served decades representing their areas. Watching how the younger delegates mature, and the older delegates share their experience, gives insight into why final resolutions are passed.

Are all the delegates and their communities always happy with the outcome? No. There are strong geographical, philosophical and personality divides, and the farm bureaus in each state witness battles within. Each state has its own trigger points or heated issues: this year in Oregon, land use will continue to be the most contentious one, but water is always a big one, too, in the West.

The sign of good leaders at the state level is how they hold together the factions within, where people feel they all had a chance to express themselves, share their views, and accept that a majority decision has been made (whether or not it supported their side.)

During the next few days, this blog will highlight some of what is happening here in Oregon. Our California editor Bob Krauter is attending the California Farm Bureau meeting this week and will report on that. Capital Press staff will also be attending the national AFBF annual meeting in Salt Lake, Utah in early January to keep people updated on what is happening there, especially from a Western perspective.

Stay tuned to Blogriculture for more.

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