Zippy Duvall’s been on the road. By late October, he’d been to more than a dozen states and planned to hit more than 30 states by year’s end, all on his trek to be the next American Farm Bureau Federation president.
Duvall publicly threw his hat into the AFBF presidential ring in July, soon after Texas-native Bob Stallman, who has been AFBF president for 16 years, announced he would not seek re-election. Duvall has been traveling to meet with and better introduce himself to state Farm Bureau boards and members across the country.
The Georgia farmer comes from one of the most agriculturally diverse regions of the country and says this gives him a unique qualification to be the future face for the “Voice of American Agriculture.”
In late October, Southeast Farm Press sat down with Duvall at the 2015 Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga., where Duvall got a public endorsement from the Sunbelt Expo’s Executive Director Chip Blalock and a hardy ‘Hear! Hear!” from Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
“What I plan to do and what we’ve already been doing is getting out there and really listening to our grassroots and state Farm Bureaus and see what they want their organization to focus on and how they want to move forward. Organizationally, we need to search ourselves and look for common goals that we all want to reach,” Duvall said. “And we’re seeking out and building relationships with key policymakers. … Our job is to speak for farmers when they can’t be at the tables where decisions are made that impact their lives and business.”
How did "Vincent Mearl" turn into "Zippy"?
It’s been said that if you can eat it, make clothes with it, drink it, smoke it or frame a house with it, it grows in the Southeast, where in Georgia alone the USDA tracks and maintains records for more than 40 commercially grown commodities, from poultry to pecans to cotton to soybeans to corn to more than two dozen fruit and vegetable crops.
Georgia, he said, is an agriculture-friendly state. Politics and agriculture go hand-in-hand there. Environmental regulators, politicians and farmers have to find and maintain, if not common ground, reasonable ground to keep agriculture, the state’s top industry, viable.
“Even though I come from animal agriculture, I have spent nine years as Georgia Farm Bureau president learning to apply my leadership skills to other areas of agriculture and other commodities that I wasn’t that familiar with. And that comes down to communications and sitting down with people and understanding their problems and issues, building relationships and bridges with others is key to understanding what they’re going through so I can speak for them,” said Duvall, a third-generation poultry, cattle and hay farmer, who added that he is a lifetime member of the Georgia Farm Bureau.
Duvall was in no immediate danger of losing his current job with Georgia Farm Bureau, but decided to run for the national office “after being asked by several state Farm Bureau presidents and after much prayer with my family. … I love my job as Georgia Farm Bureau president and the thought of leaving it was the toughest part of this decision.”
Duvall lives on his farm in Greene County, Ga., with his wife, Bonnie. They have been married for 36 years and have four children and three grandchildren.
Why does he want to be the next AFBF president?
“The future of American agriculture is bright all over this country. We just have to find the areas of policymaking that’s going to encourage growth. The American Farm Bureau Federation president is the face of the voice of American farmers. He is going to be out and around not just the country but the world talking about American agriculture and how hard we are working, not only to protect our natural resources, but to produce the amount of food we need to feed additional population but also to talk about the quality of food we provide for them … and telling the stories of farmers and ranchers,” Duvall said.
Duvall’s legal name is Vincent Mearl Duvall, Sr. So, how did Duvall get the nickname ‘Zippy’? It started from him being a cesarean, or C-section, baby. He left the hospital with the nickname ‘Zipper.’ Soon after, his mother and father were watching a TV show with someone named ‘Zippy’ in the show. And there you go.
The AFBF presidential election, which is for a two-year term, will be at the annual AFBF convention in Orlando Jan. 12. Each state is allotted voting delegates based on its number of Farm Bureau members. Additional delegates come from the AFBF Women’s Leadership and Young Farmers & Ranchers Committees and the sitting AFBF president for a total of 355 voting delegates.
The next AFBF president will need the support of 179 voting delegates at the convention.