Duvall: American Farm Bureau President speaks on issues crucial
to NW farmers
LEWISTON, Idaho — Zippy Duvall
recently got an up-close look at the Lower Granite Dam, one
of four dams Pacific Northwest farmers say are critical to
Duvall, president of the American Farm
Bureau Federation, toured the area to learn more about the
lower Snake River dams and offer his support to the region’s
The dams are at the epicenter of a
roiling debate over their impact on the region’s economy.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, has called for tearing out the
dams, while most of the region’s farmers adamantly oppose
it. They say the dams provide irrigation water, electricity
and make the river navigable for the huge barges
transporting wheat downriver to export terminals on the
The dams are just one of many issues
impacting agriculture that draw Duvall’s attention. As
leader of the Farm Bureau, Duvall represents the interests
of nearly 6 million farm families. The grassroots federation
includes 2,800 county and state Farm Bureaus in all 50
states and Puerto Rico.
Duvall, 65, is a third-generation
farmer in Greensboro, Ga., about 75 miles east of Atlanta.
He raises beef cattle, broiler chickens and hay.
First elected in 2016, he expects to
run for a new term as president in January at the
organization’s annual convention in Atlanta.
Duvall spoke with the Capital Press
about the Snake River dams and other topics important to
farmers, including a new Farm Bill, climate change and farm
The interview has been edited for
clarity and length.
Capital Press: What odds would you give any proposal to
remove the Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and
Ice Harbor dams on the Snake River? Is it 100%? Zero?
Somewhere in between?
Duvall: I think it’s somewhere in between. I would
hope people evaluate the value those dams have, carrying
agricultural products out to the rest of the world or to
bring inputs up to the farm so they can grow those products.
And (they can) also evaluate the
intense work they have done to protect the movement of fish
up and down that river, through fish ladders and all the
ways they’ve helped make that successful.
CP: Did you learn anything new about the dams?
Duvall: I had no idea that 10% of all U.S.
agricultural exports went down that river, and I had
absolutely no idea of the extent they went to to make sure
that salmon could come up the river, and the juvenile fish
could return back out to the ocean.
CP: Lasting impressions from your visit?
Duvall: Here in Washington (D.C.), we have a lot of
discussion around climate and policy. We talk about
climate-smart farming, renewable energy, electric vehicles.
Just to think, in all that discussion
that’s really dominating the conversation here in town, that
we would on the side have a conversation about tearing out
dams that have been very successful in protecting the fish
flow, and adding 150,000 trucks to the road or over 30,000
train cars to haul the same agricultural products down to
the river that are being barged right now. Who knows what it
would take to bring inputs back up the river?
It just seems like we’re saying one
thing about climate on one hand, and turning around and
trying to do something just as detrimental on the other
hand. That just doesn’t make sense to me.
CP: What priority do you give crop insurance in the Farm
Duvall: Crop insurance is the cornerstone of our
Farm Bill. ... It is vital that we continue to make crop
insurance a strong piece of the next Farm Bill, and look for
ways that we might improve it.
CP: Other Farm Bill priorities?
Duvall: We continue to see disasters across the
country, and to find some way to be able to react faster.
The hurricane that came through the southeast and through my
home state, it took almost 18 months or two years for
farmers to get some relief from that disaster. A lot of
those farmers were already out of business because of the
disaster before they even got any kind of help. When you
have a disaster, you need help then, not two years later.
CP: What’s the best thing the Biden administration is doing,
and the worst thing?
Duvall: They’re doing a good job of listening to
us. If you look at some of the things they’ve drafted, like
“30 by 30” (the plan highlights the role agriculture and
forestry can play in countering climate change) and some of
the executive orders that came out (in July), all of those
are our talking points. Not all of them, but they’ve had a
huge influence on the wording and principles in some of
Of course we all understand that the
devils are always in the details, and those documents are
very broad, so we’re waiting to ... make sure they continue
on the right road that fits our policy and takes agriculture
in a positive direction.
I’d say them listening is a good
thing. I think the appointment of Secretary (Tom) Vilsack
was an absolutely brilliant selection. ... If anyone can
walk into a problem, put it to work and get it done, he can.
Now my concerns, on the other hand,
are WOTUS, the Waters of the United States, and the repeal
of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. We worked really
hard with the previous administration to make sure we got
rid of a rule that was so complicated that farmers and
ranchers had to hire lawyers and consultants to be able to
stay within that rule. ... To think they’re going to repeal
it gives us great concern.
The second big concern is how are they
going to pay for all the money they’re investing into
infrastructure for pandemic relief? We know that’s got to be
done in taxes, and the direction they’re taking taxes in,
talking about doing away with stepped-up basis and making
capital gains payable at death, would be terribly
destructive to our family farms. We would not be able to
pass our farms on to the next generation and be able to
continue to produce the food and fiber for this country and
a lot of the world.
I know there’s some talk about a cut
for agriculture, but that’s just putting that tax liability
off to a later generation. We need to make sure the food
security of this country is protected by going in and
handling the situation and making sure stepped-up basis is
CP: What do you see regarding climate legislation?
Duvall: We have been really involved in that. We
knew that regardless of who won the presidential election,
Capitol Hill was going to have a discussion about climate.
So we kind of tackled this from a little different direction
and partnered up with some other organizations that
sometimes we don’t really agree with.
Some environmental, food, forestry and
agriculture groups got together and created an alliance, the
Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance. ... We agreed on
three different principles, and from those principles, we
developed 40 recommendations that are all supported by our
Farm Bureau policy developed by our farmers and ranchers.
That process generated those recommendations that went to
Capitol Hill, and actually have dominated the conversation.
So there is a way to find common
ground, and there is a way to lead the conversation. So far
we’ve been very successful, and we hope to be able to
continue that, especially as they start implementing things.
CP: Are farmers today better off than they were five to 10
Duvall: In 2011, we were approaching a couple of
seasons of the highest commodity prices we’ve had on record.
Ten years ago, we were coming into some good times, and
right now grain prices are up, so we have come into some
better times now.
The tools we have at our fingertips
are a lot better than they were 10 years ago — the traits we
have in our seeds, the ability to conserve water, the
ability to do precision agriculture is so much better than
it was 10 years ago.
That brings me to another concern —
the lack of broadband (high-speed internet). We have to
seize the moment with all this discussion around broadband,
bringing it to our rural communities for education and
healthcare. We need to make sure we reach outside of our
urban communities into the rural parts of our country so
farmers and ranchers can utilize the technologies coming to
them that are going to require broadband, so they can
collect the data and make smart decisions whether planting,
taking care of, harvesting or marketing crops.
As an organization, we depend on our
grassroots to be engaged, telling their story across their
community to their neighbors that aren’t involved in
agriculture, but also communicating with congressmen and
Today, (compared to) 10 years ago, our
farmers and ranchers are in tractors and barns toting smart
phones. Within the matter of just a minute, they can make
that communication. I think we’re in a lot better position
to be more engaged than we ever have been.
Duvall: Farm labor is the biggest limiting factor
agriculture has. Not just agriculture, but small businesses
across America. We have to create an environment where
people want to go back to work. We’ve already discovered
over the last two decades that Americans don’t go to school
and college to come home and work on a farm.
We have to have some way for people
here who want to work and don’t mind working on a farm. That
means a guestworker program that works for farmers who are
employers and employees who want to come here and work for
us, that’s fair to both. Fair to the farmer that he can
continue to stay in business and provide that job, and fair
to the worker, because that’s the right thing to do. And
something that fits year-round agriculture.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
section 107, any copyrighted material
herein is distributed without profit or
payment to those who have expressed a
prior interest in receiving this
information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only. For more
information go to: