INDIANAPOLIS -- In his final speech as president of Indiana Farm Bureau, Don Villwock called on farmers to pull together and stay involved.
Villwock, who will be retiring as president of the state's largest general farm organization at the end of the year, delivered his annual address on Nov. 16 at INFB's annual convention. He used his two grandchildren, 2-year-old Oscar and Oscar's brand-new sister, to illustrate the importance of ensuring that agriculture fulfills its potential.
"Oscar and Georgia will see even more change than we have all seen in our lifetimes," he said. "They will have to accept change, they will have to embrace change and if they are to meet this global challenge, they will have to become leaders of change. But I ask all of you to help them get to that promising future. Please stay involved, become more engaged, share your stories, and challenge those that challenge agriculture. We all must pull together if we are going to keep moving forward."
Villwock talked about the issues that have remained constant throughout his 14-year tenure – but also how many have shifted.
"When I was first elected, most of our challenges were in Washington, D.C.," he said, listing the farm bill, the Conservation Reserve Program and trade as issues that took up most of Farm Bureau's time and staff expertise. Those issues and other federal issues still remain important, he explained, citing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Waters of the U.S." rule, GMO labeling, crop insurance de-funding, tax reform and immigration as examples of important issues.
"But gradually those issues moved from the White House to the Statehouse," he said. "Property taxes that used to be less than $8/acre started to escalate," he added, noting that as land values rose, inheritance taxes became a big burden, and rural-urban conflicts started to "raise their ugly heads."
The result, he explained, is that the Statehouse is now the focus of an increasing share of Farm Bureau's attention.
"I am so proud of Farm Bureau's successful effort to repeal the state inheritance tax which saved all of you and every farmer in Indiana $300 million," Villwock said. Property tax reform is still at the top of Farm Bureau's list, he added, "But with your help over the past few years, Farm Bureau can take credit for saving Indiana's farmers $687 million.
"Our efforts must not stop," he added. "Please know your Farm Bureau is the 'looked-to' organization on finding permanent property tax relief." Villwock noted that farmer involvement in this complicated problem is particularly important now when so few members of the General Assembly are farmers.
Other Statehouse issues mentioned by Villwock were annexation, which is increasingly used by cities and towns to generate additional tax revenue; Indiana's "Right to Farm" law, which he described as one of the best in the nation; and livestock issues.
"I would say there are days when 40-60 percent of your Farm Bureau team members' time is engaged on livestock issues," he said. He specifically mentioned the "Before You Build" initiative, a joint effort of INFB, the Indiana corn and soybean associations, Indiana Pork Producers, Indiana Beef Cattle Association, and the Indiana Professional Dairy Producers that helps livestock farmers find the best locations for their building sites, assists them with getting their permits approved and assists them in finding ways to work with their neighbors.
"Oscar and his little sister Georgia Ann have a bright future in front of them. They are members of this great organization that will work hard on their behalf every day. If they want a future in agriculture, I believe their prospects are unlimited," he added.