As severe storms and tornado watches spread across Kansas, Oklahoma and surrounding states during the second week of May, industry professionals, farmers and others with an interest in animal agriculture traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, for the 2024 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit.

Devaney kimmi
Editor and Podcast Host / Progressive Dairy

Collaboration across species, proactively building relationships with elected officials on all levels and continuing trust-building efforts were three key takeaways echoed throughout the two-day summit.

Keynote speaker Joel Leftwich, chief strategy officer at Kansas Farm Bureau, kicked off the discussion on May 8 with an overview of some of the challenges and opportunities facing animal agriculture right now.

“We have a lot of challenges on our plate in agriculture, and our traditional powerline for getting things done on the policy front is not very effective right now,” Leftwich said. “It’s not just us that has to look for other jurisdictions to address policy challenges; it’s also our opposition. There’s a new playing field that we are all fighting on.”

He mentioned how the COVID-19 pandemic helped to bring more attention to the food supply. With recent inflation and higher food prices, consumers are paying more attention to food policy and policy that leads to food shortages. Increased minimum wage in states like California has also contributed to higher costs.


“Affordability and availability are priorities for [consumers], and now they’re starting to see the impacts of some of these ballot initiatives,” Leftwich said. “Who are they going to turn to when they have questions about how to put policies in place that reverse some of these trends and that improve food availability and affordability?”

To answer this question, he cited results of a Gallup Poll about who consumers trust most, which continued to show that trust in farmers, ranchers and agriculture is very high.

Leftwich also discussed the importance of building relationships – a topic that would be echoed by most speakers – and about helping consumers understand the impact a political election has on food policy.

“Every policy challenge that we face in agriculture impacts the price of food, whether it’s the size of gestation crates or whether it’s additional regulations that are placed on [producers] … Everything relates back to the affordability and availability of food,” Leftwich said.

Ballot initiatives, like one in Denver, Colorado, to outlaw slaughterhouses, also present a threat.

“If this ballot initiative wins and this facility is shut down, it will have a ripple effect, not only on the economy but also on policy,” he added.

The policy discussion continued on May 9 during a panel discussion about legal and legislative issues.

Brianna Schroeder, J.D., partner at Janzen Schroeder Agricultural Law LLC in Indiana, focused on Right to Farm laws and how no two states have the same language included in these statutes. She also described the impact of recent lawsuits.

“In the aftermath of some of those disastrous lawsuits that occurred in North Carolina from 2018 to 2020 and beyond, states around the country have been changing, updating and fine-tuning their Right to Farm Act statutes, and there are some common themes that run through that,” Schroeder said. “Indiana is one state I’m obviously familiar with, but some of the changes we’ve made over the years are echoed in other states. Doing things like capping punitive damages … states like Indiana have also said … if you drag a farm through this brutal lawsuit, and at the end of the day it turns out you had no basis, you’re going to be responsible for that farm’s attorney’s fees. While these lawsuits were going on in the federal court system out in North Carolina, North Carolina updated its Right to Farm Act. One of the reasons these lawsuits were allowed to go forward is because the court said the Right to Farm Act did not apply to these lawsuits.”

These issues threaten producers’ freedom to operate, and some ballot initiatives, propositions and petitions are led by or in part by anti-animal agriculture groups that are attempting to affect legislation on the local and state levels in their efforts to eliminate specific farm practices and animal agriculture. Speakers shared examples of ballot initiatives and other propositions and petitions from various states that could have negative effects on agriculture.

“It increases costs and sets a dangerous precedent. It’s a slippery slope,” added Chelsea Good, J.D., vice president of government and industry affairs and legal at the Livestock Marketing Association.

Building on Leftwich’s earlier comments about the ballot initiative in Denver, Rick Stott, president and CEO of Superior Farms, shared why this is something everyone should pay attention to.

“This is a national issue,” Stott said. “Every industry could be affected by this. Every packing plant is threatened by this, and this is a really serious issue that we can stop by killing [the petition] in Denver.”

Schroeder predicted an increase in local activity and encouraged those in agriculture to do their part to advocate.

“It’s hard to get things passed on a national level, so I think we will see more rules and regulations passed on the state, county and municipality level,” she said. “I think one of the big action items we can take away from this is to stay involved and be aware of those state and local laws that are being proposed so you can advocate and help lawmakers hear both sides of the issue.” 

Good and others emphasized the importance of building relationships before issues arise and need to be addressed, as well as having a unified front across animal agriculture, the pet industry and beyond.

Leftwich suggested similar action steps in his keynote presentation, including lobbying, building relationships with elected officials and helping voters better understand the issues.

“We cannot rely on the tactics that we’ve relied on for the last 20-plus years to address the challenges going forward,” he said. “Yes, we need to continue to lobby and invest in PACs [political action committees], but we must do more. We need to engage directly with voters so they are amplifying our messages and signaling to candidates that food and agriculture is important to them when candidates and elected officials come to their townhall meetings.”


Hannah Thompson-Weeman (left), president and CEO of the Animal Agriculture Alliance; Lisa McComb (second from right), Dairy Management Inc.; and Lucy Russell (right), National Pork Producers Council presented certificates to this year’s College Aggies award winners. Pictured left to right: Hannah Thompson-Weeman, Animal Agriculture Alliance; Ty Rich, Washington State University; Breanna Selsor, Iowa State University; Alexis Main, Oklahoma State University; Valerie Achziger, Washington State University; Malana Unsell, Oklahoma State University; Ashleigh Charles, Louisiana State University; Lisa McComb, Dairy Management Inc.; Lucy Russell, National Pork Producers Council. Photo courtesy of Animal Agriculture Alliance.

During the “Building your team – Connecting across the supply chain on animal welfare” panel, panelist Haley Grimes from American Humane discussed animal welfare programs and auditing fatigue. “We need to work toward efficiencies in the auditing process,” Grimes said. “Auditing fatigue is real, and producers are experiencing it all the time. Bundling audits is one way to do this. We never want to do anything that could impact the results of the audit, but we could arrange a time where the auditors are going out at the same time to do these audits on a farm.”

Roxi Beck from the Center for Food Integrity shared the seven elements of trust-building transparency during her presentation.

  1. Motivation. Act in a manner that is ethical and consistent with stakeholder interests.
  2. Disclosure. Share all information publicly, both positive and negative.
  3. Stakeholder participation. Engage those interested in your activities or impact.
  4. Relevance. Share information stakeholders deem relevant.
  5. Clarity. Share information that is easily understood or easily obtained.
  6. Credibility. Have a history of operating with integrity.
  7. Accuracy. Share information that is truthful, objective, reliable and complete.

Other sessions focused on building consumer trust, tools to address industry challenges, the role of technology and artificial intelligence, employee engagement, global topics and animal rights versus animal welfare.