Calling itself the “voice of agriculture” and promoting itself as a tireless defender of farmers, the American Farm Bureau Federation has successfully positioned itself as one of the most powerful interest groups in the United States. A cursory look beyond its pro-farmer public relations campaign, however, reveals billions of dollars in assets, close alliances with the insurance industry, and legions of lobbyists — making it difficult to view the Farm Bureau in a different light from the powerful agribusiness corporations with which it regularly partners.
Far away from America’s farms, fields and ranches, the Farm Bureau flexes its financial and political might in statehouses, courthouses and the halls of Congress, shaping everything from civil rights legislation to health insurance to agricultural policy. Sometimes advocating positions that actually hurt farmers or on issues which don’t concern them at all, the Farm Bureau appears to use farmers in one of two ways: as a source of revenue or a front to advance the organization’s political agenda and financial portfolio. What is indisputable is the Farm Bureau’s sprawling, billion-dollar collection of interlocking non-profit organizations and high-stakes insurance companies. In the nine decades it has been in operation, the number of farms in the United States has dropped from a peak of 7 million to 2 million while the Farm Bureau has amassed a fortune that would stir the envy of many corporations, its deep coffers cementing its political influence. How the Farm Bureau is able to maintain its non-profit status with such vast financial reserves and close ties to the insurance industry is a question that deserves fresh review.