The Delaware Farm Bureau convened its annual meeting Dec. 3 at Modern Maturity in Dover with 64 delegates seated. The delegates approved a few changes to the organization’s bylaws, including a change in the designation of non-farmer members to “farm community members.” Another change removes the requirement that only voting members may serve on committees, and yet another adds an additional class of “professionally engaged voting members,” recognizing Delawareans who want to be involved “because they simply love agriculture.” Members in this new designation will include those “professionally engaged in an agriculturally related career (as defined by the Board of Directors) which supports the production of agricultural products.”
James “Jay” Baxter IV, a Sussex County farmer, offered, in absentia, comments on the bylaws changes: “I have been reluctant to see major change come to Sussex County and Delaware Farm Bureau; after all, I am James H Baxter IV. My grandfather spent countless hours, two generations ago, to help build the membership of Delaware Farm Bureau into what we have today. Now it is our turn.
“As we continue to build this grassroots organization, we must not hinder positive, responsible growth. As you study these bylaw changes, please consider the opportunity we have. We have the chance to tap into a flowing spring of wisdom and knowledge from our neighbors who are involved in agriculture but are not necessarily “bona fide farmers.” If properly vetted and maintained, these peers will help solidify our cause. The key is that we the farmers strategically maintain a majority and vet these relationships. These individuals hold an opportunity to reach our neighbors and help support agriculture and a rural way of life which is crucial for us to pass on a viable, flourishing ag economy to our children.”
Several resolutions amended the DFB’s policy book, one calling for creation of a Delaware Deer Damage Task Force “to study and make recommendations of ways to decrease the white-tailed deer damage in Delaware” and a another urging the state to undertake a “thorough measurement of the population and distribution of property-destroying wildlife within the state” including white-tailed deer, sika deer, resident Canada geese and snow geese. Delegates also resolved to urge the state “to allow the use of the semi-automatic platform of modern sporting rifles as permitted weapons for the harvest of deer on private land permitted under Deer Damage Assistance Programs.”
And, finally, delegates approved a resolution to support specific state legislation to clearly protect agritourism operators from frivolous lawsuits.
Robert Garey, who has served more than 20 years on the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation, asked delegates to help spread the word that several young farmers who have already qualified for loans under the Young Farmers and Ranchers Program are looking for land to purchase.
As of Round 24, more than 1,000 farms have sold development rights, totaling some 134,000 acres, Garey said. He noted that organizers of a new program to help young farmers and ranchers get started had not foreseen the situation that exists today. Several young farmers who meet all the requirements have been pre-qualified for a loan, but cannot find land to buy.
“My push now, our push, is to try to find people up in age who don’t have someone to turn the farm over to, to tell them they do have the opportunity to sell their farm to this prospective new farmer, and their farm will be preserved in perpetuity,” Garey said.
“I’m asking you and whoever we can spread the word to, to let them know there are young people out there with experience who want to have a farm.”
Farmer Ernie Vogl asked why there is so much misconception with attorneys and realtors telling prospective buyers they can buy their way out of agland preservation. “Do you know of any case where land was bought back?” Vogl asked.
Garey explained that originally there was a way, if it were deemed that it was no longer feasible to farm the land, “but that ended. It hasn’t been possible in the last 25 years,” he said.
“Everybody should understand you’ve given up something and you’re not be able to reproduce it. Some people think money will get you anything, but not unless something happens long after I’m gone.”
Garey also said sellers would not have to wait for Round 25 to sell. “I insisted we set aside a money portion of the appropriation for the Young Farmer and Rancher Program.” If an individual qualifies, he or she can make the transition when the ground is available.
DFB President Richard Wilkins added, “having access to land is the biggest obstacle” for those with a burning desire to get into farming.
Jackie King of King Crop Insurance then challenged every delegate to “ask everyone involved in agriculture to become a member of this great organization.”
Stewart Ramsey shared with attendees how the county and state Farm Bureau had rallied around New Castle County farmers who were challenged with “inordinately high” taxes on new farm structures. Taxes were lowered by 75 percent on poultry houses on at least two farms. “If we’re going to make progress on really important issues, we’ve got to stay with Farm Bureau,” Ramsey said.
Awards were given to three retiring members of the DFB Board of Directors: Sandy Virdin, Kent County Women’s Committee chair; Dale Phillips, Sussex County President; and Fred Stites, New Castle County representative to the Board.
An award for Nationwide Top Farm Policy Writer was presented to Jules Hendricks, owner of Crow Insurance Agency Inc.
Walter Hopkins, chair of Farm Credit Foundation for Agricultural Advancement, presented a check for $10,000 to the Delaware Farm Bureau Foundation to be used for the Ag Lab. Richard Wilkins, Foundation chair, accepted the donation. This is the second such donation Farm Credit has given the Foundation.
Guest Speaker was Dr. John Newton, chief economist at American Farm Bureau Federation, who provided an overview of the 2019 farm economy.
Joseph Poppiti, who assumed the position of DFB executive director last December, reported on his first year.
Membership is the biggest challenge. Government regulation has resulted in a loss of non-voting members’ discounts on Nationwide personal lines policies. Poppiti said DFB is working with several other state Farm Bureaus on strategies for building membership.
DFB also has worked to implement new financial rules for non-profits. “They do make sense,” he said. “It’s a good way to track how we spend money at Farm Bureau.”
The organization recently received a $39,000 USDA specialty crop grant through the Delaware Department of Agriculture to promote Delaware ag products in 2020 and 2021. In cooperation with Nationwide, DFB was able to get a grain bin rescue tube for Harrington Fire Company. “We would like to partner with someone to get another rescue tube for southern New Castle County,” Poppiti said.
He continued with other successes, including increased presence on social media and in newspaper, radio and television reports. Funds raised at the 5K Milk Run made possible a $10,000 donation to the Ministry of Caring to provide milk for children and a donation of $5,856 to the Delaware Food Bank for its backpack program for at-risk kids.
Delegates chosen for the AFBF convention were Richard Wilkins, with First Vice President Laura Hill as alternate. The Women’s Committee will send its chair, Mary Bea Gooden, with Connie Fox as alternate.