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Commentary: Former CFBF leader’s words resonate today

Issue Date: January 23, 2019
CFBF President Jamie Johansson
CFBF President Ray B. Wiser speaks at the organization’s 20th Annual Meeting in 1938.

This month, I joined fellow Farm Bureau members from California participating in the 100th American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention. Last month, I was privileged to speak at the 100th California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting. As CFBF and AFBF celebrate centennials, we have the opportunity to look back at key milestones in our organization's history, while we look forward to how to equip our members to meet the challenges of the future.

That's been a focus for CFBF since the beginning. The other day, a staff member came across the text of a speech CFBF President Ray B. Wiser made at the 20th Annual Meeting in 1938. Much of what he said then resonates today, and shows the enduring values Farm Bureau has pursued from the start.

Here are excerpts from President Wiser's speech, maintaining his punctuation and capitalization:

Institutions, like individuals, are judged not only by what they do, but by what they want to do. Sometimes, ideals are more important than accomplishments.

The ideals of our early leaders left such an impressionable mark upon the organization they conceived, that many of our present activities can be traced back through all the years to the very founding of our Farm Bureau.

The program emphasized that the County Farm Bureaus should be brought closer together; that legislation affecting agricultural interests should be fostered; that the organization should look into and give assistance on the problem of marketing farm products; THAT IT SHOULD BE A FIGHTING ORGANIZATION FOR THE GOOD OF THE FARMERS OF THE STATE; that it should favor a National Federation of Farm Bureaus; that the group should favor increased production; should aid the agricultural extension service; should cooperate with other agricultural organizations; SHOULD ENTER INTO A CAMPAIGN OF PUBLICITY AND EDUCATION COVERING AGRICULTURAL MATTERS; should give aid to counties on various projects; should extend Farm Bureau work into counties in which it was lacking; should strengthen the entire Farm Bureau structure through the state; SHOULD INTEREST ITSELF IN EDUCATION IN RURAL DISTRICTS; and SHOULD WORK TOWARD BETTER RURAL COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT.

Basically, and in relation to other groups, the agricultural problems of today are the problems of twenty years ago. But no economic group stands still. It either forges ahead or it goes backward. To a large degree, the Farm Bureau has met the challenge and the responsibilities put upon it by agriculture in two ways. First, by adhering constantly to the fundamental problems faced by agriculture; and second, by devising an attack upon those problems elastic enough to meet changing conditions.

As the years went by, your Farm Bureau took a deeper and deeper interest in legislative matters because—in the last analysis—human beings and their modes of living are affected by laws.

Passing over the years which marked the rapid development and expansion of our organization, we note how our programs and projects, and even the physical structure of our organization, were amplified to meet changing times and conditions. A Law and Utilities Department was created. Our organization swung vigorously behind such reclamation projects as the Boulder Dam. We began the move for conservation of water supplies which now is culminating in the Central Valley water project, a great engineering undertaking in behalf of agriculture. We began to take a more intensive interest in the work of the various experimental stations. Programs were started for standardization of canning fruits and vegetables. We began to study the relation of forest, water and conservation problems to agriculture. In other words, we expanded our programs and activities to meet existing conditions.

We called for the introduction of courses of study on agriculture in high schools, this project later developing into the organization known as Future Farmers of America.

No organization has enjoyed a richer or more fundamental background of experiences and growth than has our own Farm Bureau. We have progressed slowly but accurately. We have taken one step at a time, but we were always certain that the steps we did take were sound and in the right direction. Today, we meet in the greatest of all our conventions, to consult with each other over the problems of the day, problems which are more complicated and more difficult to solve than any we have experienced in the past.

Let us step out boldly toward the front and announce to the world that we are truly A FIGHTING ORGANIZATION FOR THE GOOD OF THE FARMERS OF THE STATE, the very words we wrote into our 14-point program way back in 1919. And let us fight for the things which we believe are right and for material and economic advantages for the group we represent, the farmers of California. Let us fight fairly, but let us fight.

When I say fight, I mean intelligent fighting, with the use of intelligent weapons, the weapons of education, legislation, molding of public opinion, and of the conference method. Our group is the most powerful group in the land, if only we can bring it under one roof and dedicate it to a single program of purposes and objectives. No matter what we do, we must not lose sight of the chief objectives. We must continue to be a FIGHTING ORGANIZATION FOR THE GOOD OF THE FARMERS OF THE STATE.

(Ray B. Wiser, a farmer from Gridley, served as CFBF president from 1938 to 1951.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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