Fort Report: Farmer to Farmer

Jun 8, 2018
Fort Report

Before I walked down to the floor of the House of Representatives to offer an amendment to the Farm Bill, I called Archie Devore of Lincoln. Archie started milking cows at twelve years old. Beginning the day at 4:00 AM, he has plenty of memories of wet tails whipping him in the face. Archie put himself through college by working the dairy, earned a PhD in Agricultural Science, and began a profession in ag extension for twenty years.

As his career progressed, Archie volunteered for an important United States program called Farmer to Farmer. For over thirty years, Farmer to Farmer has connected volunteer American farmers, agriculture extension experts, and others with deep knowledge of the ag industry—from dairy production to seed selection, entomology, irrigation, crop yield improvement, and farm credit—with farmers abroad, often in partnership with governments and agricultural universities around the globe. The sharing of America’s ag expertise dramatically enhances the capacity of peoples elsewhere to grow their own food, contributing to worldwide food security, community well-being, and human flourishing.

One of Archie’s signature experiences was in Bangladesh. That South Asian country has as many dairy cows as we do in the United States, but with twelve times less production. Through his work there, Archie shared techniques, particularly nutrition guidance, to improve milk production as a way to solve hunger and structural poverty—which can be severe in Bangladesh. He was so successful that the Bangladeshis named him the “Father of Modern Dairy.” Archie is a humble man. He shuns the title.

Stories like Archie’s are one reason I offered the Farmer to Farmer Program amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill. This initiative is about three things: the richness of America’s farm experience, an engine of economic regeneration for the poor, and enhancing emerging economic and diplomatic relations. The amendment expands the role of the United States Department of Agriculture as an active participant in the program; it adds, for the first time, a requirement to include a Yield Gap Analysis developed by the University of Nebraska; and it builds a new means of sharing Farmer to Farmer successes. The amendment update renews, innovates, and modernizes the program’s goals. 

Initially authorized in 1985 by my predecessor Doug Bereuter, and re-authorized via subsequent Farm Bills, The John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer to Farmer Program (Farmer to Farmer) has deployed more than 17,000 volunteers from United States farms, agribusinesses, cooperatives, and universities since its founding, representing all fifty states and serving in over 110 countries. These volunteers have provided direct hands-on training to over 1.2 million people.

John Ogonowski was an agriculture advocate and American Airlines pilot who perished in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. The project's name honors John’s extensive work with immigrant Southeast Asian farmers using his land in rural Massachusetts.

The growth of the Farmer to Farmer program during its thirty-plus years of existence has fostered community ecosystems of sustainable agriculture, enhanced the ability of local farmers to access new markets, and conserved environmental and natural resources. As with any government program, institutional stagnation can stifle imaginative thinking. By amending theFarmer to Farmer program, we can help build a 21st century architecture of enhanced diplomatic relations using the best of our farm community’s expertise. I was pleased that the House of Representatives passed the Farmer to Farmer amendment during Farm Bill debate. While the politics of the Farm Bill are still in flux, the bill should be reconsidered shortly.

In the D.C. salons of grand international political intrigue, no one has ever heard of Archie Devore. Now you have.