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President's message: Fifty years ago, as today, Farm Bureau looks ahead

Issue Date: September 4, 2019
Jamie Johansson, CFBF President

In a few weeks, the California Farm Bureau Federation will reach its 100th birthday. Our organization was founded in October 1919, with the object of demanding a "square deal" for family farmers and ranchers.

Fifty years later, in 1969, CFBF leaders reflected on the federation's golden anniversary and projected what Farm Bureau would maintain as priorities on its centennial. They wrote articles for the CFBF publication, Farm Bureau Monthly, that showed they recognized how Farm Bureau needed to stay true to its core principles while being flexible to adapt to changing times.

In 1969, Allan Grant was in the middle of his eight-year service as CFBF president; in 1976, he would be elected president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. In an article titled "Looking ahead to the future Farm Bureau," he said Farm Bureau during its first 50 years had "demonstrated its position of leadership and usefulness to agriculture as well as its positive influence on the economy of the whole nation."

But to continue to do so, he wrote, a general farm organization such as Farm Bureau would have to adjust "to meet the changing demands of a changing agriculture and a changing environment."

By that, he meant the consolidation of farms, the growing competition from agriculture in other countries, and also larger societal changes as people in the United States—and California in particular—became less tied to agrarian roots.

Russell Richards recognized that too. He managed the CFBF Field Operations Division in 1969 and wrote about how "a changing attitude toward agriculture" could affect public policy.

"With the ordinary citizen being more concerned with food than with the individuals that produce it, it seems safe to assume a sound, vigorous, forward-looking general farm organization is bound to be the most effective for agriculture," Richards wrote.

The objectives of Farm Bureau would not change, he said: "The organization will still be a vehicle for farmers to do collectively what they won't be able to do alone" and its philosophy that what affects one commodity affects all commodities "will prove more applicable than at any time during its history."

Both Grant and Richards foresaw a push for environmental regulation: 1969 saw passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, and the California Environmental Quality Act followed the next year.

They also both expected greater public interest in open space and the conservation of farmland—an issue in which CFBF had played a lead role a few years earlier, in 1965, through passage of the statewide Williamson Act program.

In addition, Grant wrote, "A growing demand by the public for open space will require increasing attention by Farm Bureau for the preservation of the right of private ownership of property"—and certainly, that has remained a key CFBF priority in the decades since.

One reason Farm Bureau has kept its priorities consistent, as CFBF Secretary Richard Owens wrote in 1969: "Farm Bureau policy will always be made by members."

Owens believed Farm Bureau would remain "a valid and vital part of agriculture in the years ahead" because it would continue to serve farmers of all sizes and types.

"Every farmer regardless of his commodity interest or size will continue to need an organization to which he can turn with any problem," Owens said.

"To be effective for agriculture," Russell Richards wrote, "the organization will have to be geared to a greater degree than ever before to prepare for situations that will affect farmers before they ever appear on the horizon."

Or, as Allan Grant put it, "Farm Bureau will adjust to serve a changing agriculture in an increasingly complex environment."

As Farm Bureau president today, I benefit from the collective wisdom of these and other past leaders, and also from the collective wisdom of our current members through county Farm Bureaus, policy review committees, the House of Delegates and other forums.

That's why Farm Bureau has remained vital for a century: continuity in purpose combined with the ability to change to serve the needs of its ever-more-diverse membership.

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

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