March 03, 2024

Plugged in: Farm Bureau grows its grassroots

Celebrating six years of membership gains

FRENCH LICK, Ind. — Even though the pandemic limited in-person events, video conferencing enabled Indiana Farm Bureau to still grow its grassroots.

Pictured among the galleries of virtual meeting participants have been farmers in tractors during planting, in sprayers, in combines and even in a semi parked while waiting to deliver grain at the elevator, said INFB President Randy Kron.

“I didn’t expect those people to stop farming, doing what they’re doing, to take part in our meeting. But by having these options, it’s allowed us to bring some more people to the table, have better discussions and make sure we’re making the right decisions,” said Kron during a Q&A at the INFB State Convention in French Lick.

Here’s what Kron, who has been president of INFB since 2016, had to say during the session moderated by veteran farm broadcaster Dave Russell.

How has the last year been for farmers?

Mother Nature was very kind to us. We had a good planting season. Mostly timely rains. I know there were some areas in August that didn’t get any rains for the soybeans. Overall, as I traveled the state I’ve heard a lot of really, really great yields, especially on corn, a lot of records. Beans are a little more variable.

Not very often do we get good yields and good prices. Those two just almost don’t ever go together. So, it’s been a really good year.

But thinking about 2022 and looking ahead, the lieutenant governor talked about the supply chain and what’s happening here, the availability of a lot of our inputs, that’s on the crop side and the livestock side, and then the real question is — if it’s even available, at what price?

So, there’s some real challenges as we move forward. But I will say agriculture has had a pretty good year this past year.

How has INFB adjusted during the pandemic?

We’ve done things a whole lot different than what we’ve normally done. I think about virtual meetings. Eighteen months ago, a lot of us didn’t know what Zoom was, probably. Our estate planning meeting, normally we have that in-person. This year, over 400 people were virtually on the seminar. That’s more than double, almost triple what would be a normal attendance.

So, there’s been some good things come out of this. We’ve learned how to do things different and it will help us in the future for bringing some people together.

I’ve seen virtual meetings, I’ve seen drive-through meetings, I’ve seen drive-in meetings and some in-person. It’s whatever fits for the situation.

How did the pandemic affect INFB’s advocacy efforts last year?

It turned our world upside down. Farm Bureau is an in-person, hands-on organization.

Here at harvest time we had a lot of our Indiana delegation in combines. One-on-one conversation with your congressman is about as good as it gets.

What’s the plan for 2022?

Hopefully, knock on wood, we’re back in-person.

We’ve heard a lot about redistricting. Is that a concern?

Yes. We’ve had several districts that were pretty well or predominately almost all rural, in the doughnut counties around Indianapolis, they’ve turned into suburban districts.

Over half of the counties lost population.

It’s a challenge and an opportunity. We’re going to have to work extra hard to find people that are ag friendly. We’re very fortunate here in Indiana we have a very ag-friendly legislature. We have an agriculture-friendly governor and lieutenant governor. But we can’t take those things for granted.

If you’re in a suburban district, I joke, they could possibly be electing some that don’t know that cows are the tall ones and pigs are the short ones. That means we’re going to have to build relationships and make sure they understand what we do and how we do it and that we take care of this country and our land.

What are some national issues that are percolating that could require some targeted advocacy efforts?

The list is long. The ones that percolate to the top are probably: taxes, Waters of the U.S., and climate.

Stepped-up basis has been around since 1920. I don’t think most people realize how long that’s been around. I’m concerned about losing stepped-up basis. And I’m concerned about reduction in the estate tax exemption — right now it’s $11.5 million; there’s discussion going back to $1 million.

There’s talk about increasing capital gains rates and also, kind of scary, capital gains at death, not when you sell.

It’s about passing the farm on to the next generation. These things could be detrimental to that, make it impossible and end up selling part of the farm off.

Waters of the U.S. has been like a yo-yo, up and down. The biggest issue, bottom line, is how do you define navigable waters? What was written under the Obama administration basically said the water running off your yard that ran through three or four more ditches and finally got to something that’s navigable meant they had control of the water running off of your yard.

Because of a court ruling, the current administration is rewriting and we’re going to work hard to make sure that farmers are represented and try to have our voice heard and try to have some common sense in something that comes out of D.C.

I don’t go to a meeting that somewhere climate doesn’t come up. It could have major ramifications to agriculture. My goal and what I want to see happen is that agriculture can be a big part of the answer in this.

There’s going to be a revenue stream that flows through this. I want to make sure that revenue stream comes back to the farmers and doesn’t dry up kind of at the middleman.

Indiana Farm Bureau and American Farm Bureau are a part of FACA, the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance. I will admit there’s some partners there that we wouldn’t normally be a part of, but I think we have to be at the table, we have to have those discussions and they need to understand how it’s going to impact agriculture.

Are there other national issues that you’re watching?

One of them that I lose sleep over right now and is really concerning is California Prop 12. Bottom line on that, you have one state vote how they want their animals raised and that’s going to mandate how we do it here in Indiana. That’s just flat wrong. One state should not be able to mandate what we do here.

American Farm Bureau, National Pork with the help of Indiana Farm Bureau, our Ag Law Foundation, and several other states filed a lawsuit and we’re trying to stop that. It probably will end up in the Supreme Court.

You may think, “Well, I’m a grain farmer, that’s just livestock. I’m a grain farmer, that doesn’t matter.” Trust me, grain is next on the docket. They’ll be mandating how we raise our crops, too.

The other one that probably comes to mind — it’s hard to believe, but it’s time to start talking farm bill again. It seems like we just wrapped the last one up. We’ve put together a task force. They’ve met twice already.

Let’s turn to Indiana and health care. Indiana Farm Bureau Health Plans have now been available for a year. What has that first year been like and are you pleased with the progress?

It’s been great. We’ve got about 5,000 lives covered. What I really like is the stories that I get especially from the younger generation saying, “It allowed me to go back to the farm,” or “I wanted to go back to the farm, but I couldn’t figure out this insurance thing” and it allowed them to go back.

We’re talking about 40% to 70% savings if you’re buying it on the marketplace. To me, it’s a win-win.

Was 2021 a good year for membership?

Yes, it was. We gained a little more than 2,800 members. That’s six years in a row of membership gain.

Broadband was your No. 1 legislative priority in 2021. How did that go?

It’s going to take money to fix broadband — we heard the lieutenant governor say that; $250 million was approved through the legislature for broadband “Next Level” grants. We formed an alliance with six other groups to work on the speed test. Now you’ve got the money, we’ve got to figure out where does it need to be spent and you want to make sure it’s spent at the most needy areas, or who needs the broadband the worst, who has zero broadband, or who has, like I say, we’re one step above the tin cans and a string.

This was a big year at the State Fair for Indiana Farm Bureau, right?

If you were at the State Fair, you noticed that we moved from the north side of the fairgrounds to the south side, centered around a lot of the livestock facilities there. One of our priorities at Indiana Farm Bureau is youth development and youth leadership. That’s our focus a lot with 4-H. Hopefully, we can help build future leaders. Hopefully, there are some future leaders coming for Farm Bureau and just agriculture as a whole.

I want to give a huge shout-out to the Women’s Leadership Committee and Taste From Indiana Farms. They moved that to the Horticulture Building and they touched over 10,000 people. It was a huge undertaking. They went from three days to five. They expanded their hours. As they were passing out some food from Indiana farms, they were given a little factoid or information about agriculture. So, 10,000 people hopefully learned maybe one, two or three things about Indiana agriculture.

The legislature approved $50 million to do a renovation of what most would call the Swine Barn. It’s going to be the Indiana Farm Bureau Fall Creek Pavilion. We’re looking forward to 2023 when we do the ribbon-cutting.

James Henry

James Henry

Executive Editor