By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
IDAHO FALLS – Idaho Farm Bureau Federation members can continue to accomplish meaningful things if they remain unified.
That was one of the main messages from Farm Bureau leaders during IFBF’s 2019 County Presidents’ Summer Conference, which was attended by 21 of Idaho’s 36 county Farm Bureau presidents, as well as members of IFBF’s board of directors.
During the two-day conference, participants received updates on farming and legislative issues and offered feedback.
“Our strength as an organization is that we are able to work in unity,” said IFBF CEO Rick Keller. “Alone we can do good but together we can do more than what we can do separately. Our strength comes from being (unified).”
Keller also offered some tips on how to build unity, including having clearly defined goals and roles, establishing trust, encouraging open communication and practicing unity.
“Unity is something that doesn’t just happen,” he said. “We need to keep practicing and practicing and practicing. If we are unified … we can do great things together.”
Unity starts with the grassroots, said IFBF President Bryan Searle, a farmer from Shelley.
“It’s all about the grassroots; when we have strong county Farm Bureaus, we have a strong state organization,” he said. “As long as we continue to work together, we’ll be strong.”
Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. of Idaho CEO Paul Roberts told conference participants the insurance company is fiscally sound and he also said the Idaho Farm Bureau name is recognized and well-respected around the state.
The Idaho Business Review’s annual reader rankings rated the insurance company this year as the best insurance agency in Idaho for the third straight year, Roberts said.
“That speaks a lot to the kind of service we provide, particularly in our county offices,” he said. “They do an excellent job providing service to our customers.”
The No. 1 ranking is also partially a result of the extensive community service activities that Farm Bureau participates in, said Roberts, who provided at least a dozen examples.
Farm Bureau’s involvement in communities “goes far beyond this,” he added. “I’ve only mentioned a few of the things that we do. We do get really involved in our local communities. That is part of what makes us a well-respected and well-known organization throughout the state.”
During the conference, Farm Bureau members were encouraged to become more engaged in the legislative process. That will become more important as Idaho’s population continues to grow rapidly, said Russ Hendricks, director of IFBF’s governmental affairs division.
He said groups and people on the opposite side of issues that Farm Bureau supports or opposes have started to become much more organized and engaged.
As an example, he pointed to a few major pieces of legislation during the 2019 Idaho legislative session, including a bill that would have given rural Idahoans a bigger say in whether proposed voter initiatives make the ballot.
IFBF supported that proposal.
People opposed to the bill, mainly from Boise, showed up in large numbers to testify against the legislation, which passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by the governor.
“The opposition were the ones involved in setting the narrative and tone and we, not so much,” Hendricks said. “The opposition is getting much more engaged and involved.”
This organized opposition to a few major issues that appeared during the legislative session was new and different this year and likely not a one-time thing given the state’s rapid growth, he said.
“Things are changing and our opposition is getting more energized and organized,” Hendricks said.
Farm Bureau county presidents were encouraged to help enlist other people to become more engaged in the legislative process and show up at the Capitol to testify on major issues when necessary.
“The days of sitting back and saying, ‘The (lobbyists) in Boise will take care of this’ are coming to an end,” Hendricks said. “We are all going to have to get engaged in one way or another.”
His take on the issue was seconded by Sen. Mark Harris, a Republican rancher from Soda Springs and IFBF member.
“Times are changing in Idaho,” he told conference participants. “The growth in (the Boise area) is crazy. We are seeing a lot of people coming into the state of Idaho with ideas that are different than ours.”
This has led to the creation of activist groups and “they are vocal and they are very active,” Harris said.
He said it was uncanny how quickly these groups reacted to the initiatives bill.
“We haven’t seen the last of that,” Harris said. “It’s going to be the new norm in Idaho.”
He encouraged more farmers and ranchers to show up to testify on important issues.
“I can’t express how much you are loved by your legislators; legislators love farmers and ranchers … and your voice carries a lot of weight,” he said. “The legislative session is harvest time and we need all hands on deck when that happens.”
When the state’s redistricting process takes place in 2020, rural Idaho will probably lose two to three legislative districts to Ada and Canyon counties, Harris said. That could mean the loss of six to nine farm-friendly lawmakers.
“It’s more important than ever to remain active in groups like Farm Bureau and keep our voice strong,” he said.