ORLANDO, Fla. (DTN) -- With all of the issues facing American agriculture, the new president of the American Farm Bureau Federation said Tuesday that immigration reform would be the first issue he would choose to testify on before Congress if he were given the option.
Farm Bureau delegates voted Tuesday for Duvall to take over as the 12th president in the group's history.
Duvall, 59, has been president of the Georgia Farm Bureau for the past nine years. He beat out three other candidates for the position in three rounds of secret votes among the 353 delegates at Farm Bureau's national convention in Orlando.
In his first press conference as president, Duvall said as he toured the country, he noted farmers have some of the same issues around the country: regulations, prices, taxes and labor.
"There are so many things on their minds out there and they want help to find solutions," Duvall said.
As the new Farm Bureau president, Duvall will be dealing immediately with issues such as EPA's waters of the U.S. rule, trade and biotechnology labeling, just to name a few. But Duvall said labor is reaching a crisis stage for farmers, and thus immigration needs to be addressed immediately. Thus, that would be the topic he would like to address first in a congressional hearing if the chance presented itself.
"There is a crisis across this country of having a stable workforce to be able to get the crops out of the field," Duvall said. "Americans no longer want to do the work that we do with the cows and the chickens and the fields anymore. It is absolutely vital that sometime soon in the future we find a solution to that. It is a moral issue. It's a sensitive issue, but it is a business issue."
Duvall added that anytime farmers face a hardship getting their crops out of the field that immediately creates a chain reaction, which adds cost to the consumer. "We have people to feed and we can do it. The American farmer is so resourceful, and if we can untie his hands and take the burden of regulation off of him, and give him the technologies that the rest of the world isn't able to use, we can grow the food everyone needs at a cost everyone can afford."
Thus, immigration is an issue that needs attention as soon as possible, he said.
While Duvall may want to take on agriculture's immigration challenges, that could be a tough row to hoe in 2016 due to that other presidential election -- the U.S. presidency. Immigration is such a hot topic in the national presidential race that it's unlikely Congress would take any actions on a guest-worker program or any other immigration program until at least next year.
In talking to reporters late Tuesday, Duvall stressed that farmers are overburdened by regulation and challenged by the lack of labor for farm jobs. He also stressed that he has a style of leadership that builds bridges and solves problems. Duvall also talked about the importance faith plays in the way he approaches his daily life.
"The journey I have been on, not just for this position, but as a farmer and a father and as a husband and a friend to people, has made me realize that real peace and happiness does not come from material things," Duvall said. "It comes from a belief and my belief system is very strong, and I will not shy away from that."
Duvall replaces Texas farmer and rancher Bob Stallman, who has held the presidency of AFBF for the past 16 years.
In Tuesday's election, Duvall defeated Don Villwock in the final vote. Villwock had been president of the Indiana Farm Bureau until this past December. Duvall and Villwock had strong constituencies and campaigns at the AFBF annual meeting going into the final days.
Kevin Rogers, president of the Arizona Farm Bureau, and Barry Bushue, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau, also ran for national president and were eliminated in the first two rounds of ballots.
A Farm Bureau member since 1977, Duvall is a beef, poultry and hay producer near Greshamville, Georgia. He has a 300-head cattle herd and produces about 750,000 broilers every year. Duvall grew up mostly in the dairy industry until he converted the dairy to a beef herd about a decade ago. Duvall talks frequently about the diversity of agriculture in his state, ranging from fruits and vegetables to cotton, dairy and poultry.
Duvall came up through the Georgia Young Farmer and Rancher Committee and became national chairman of that committee. He then became president of the Georgia Farm Bureau. In accepting his nomination, Duvall told delegates, "I believe this is the only organization in the country that can organize all the commodities and all the regions of the country to get things done."
In Duvall's acceptance speech, he said he would fight for farmers' freedoms and let people know around the world where the heart of the American farmer lies.
"We're the ones that have built the rural communities of this country," Duvall said.
He also quoted Colossians 3:23, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men."
He also talked about the humanitarian importance of every farmer. "There is no other human right more precious than the right to eat. Bob Dole said that, and when I read that, it touched my heart," Duvall said.
Bushue was national vice president for AFBF since 2008, but he opted not to run for another term as vice president after losing the presidency. South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal won the vote to become AFBF's new national vice president.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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