About 20 Alabama farmers learned how to better engage elected officials and consumers during the American Farm Bureau Federation's Joint National Leadership Conference Feb. 8-9 in Phoenix.

Congressional Management Foundation President and CEO Brad Fitch set the tone for the conference in an opening keynote address.

"Your story is important, and the way you tell your story is essential," he said, adding that members of Congress consider a constituent visit six times more effective than a visit by a lobbyist.

Alabama Farmers Federation National Affairs Director Mitt Walker said the research shared by Fitch and others can help farmers be more influential in Washington and at home.

"This conference is held once every two years at the beginning of a new Congress coming into session, and it's a great opportunity for our members and staff to come and talk about the policies that will be considered in this session of Congress and also talk about ways we can be more effective in getting our message across."

About 1,325 farmers from across the nation participated in the event, which was themed "Celebrating Tradition, Embracing Change."

The executive committee of the Federation's state board attended seminars on Feb. 8-9. Members of the State Young Farmers Committee joined them for the second day and stayed in Phoenix following the joint session for the AFBF Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference.

Federation President Jimmy Parnell, who previously served as chairman of the State Young Farmers Committee, said he was glad Alabama's young farmers have a chance to participate in the conference.

"The opportunity to visit with these young farmers from across the United States is invaluable," Parnell said. "During the time I was in the Young Farmers program, that was not available, and I think it was a huge loss for our organization to not have that diversity of opinion and observation of what's going on in this country."

State Young Farmers Committee Vice-Chair Allie Corcoran of Barbour County hopes to use lessons learned at the conference to improve Alabama's programs.

"We hope to meet a bunch of other young farmers and get ideas from their states, and hopefully we can bring their ideas back to Alabama and really strengthen our Young Farmers Committee and our counties," she said.

Federation North Region Vice-President Rex Vaughn said a conference presentation by the Center for Food Integrity and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance highlighted the need for farmers to be "interactive" rather than reactive when talking to consumers.