American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Pat Wolff calls this time of year “Farm Bureau season” in Washington, D.C. The annual late winter and early spring migration of more than 4,000 Farm Bureau members from across the country to Capitol Hill brings the voice of farmers to lawmakers.
Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s (OFBF) county presidents made the trek to the nation’s capital for the 65th time earlier this month.
“You bring real (farm) experience to Washington, but you also are building relationships with your members of Congress,” OFBF President Brent Porteus told the county volunteer leaders. “Value your participation here in Washington on behalf of those you represent back home.”
“This is why you belong to Farm Bureau,” added OFBF Executive Vice President Jack Fisher. “It is critically important that members of Congress hear from you off the farm.”
The effort doesn’t go unnoticed. According to OFBF Senior Director of Legislative and Regulatory Policy Adam Sharp, members of Congress credit the passage of agriculture-friendly legislation in 2010 to their visits with Farm Bureau members.
The value of participation
Both Porteus and Fisher said the value of participation is the greatest benefit to a Farm Bureau member. According to county Farm Bureau presidents, the trip is a clear indication of this value.
“The trip opens your eyes,” said Madison County Farm Bureau President Dennis Wilt, a first-time participant. “We’re talking to important people who all seem concerned (about issues discussed).”
Third-time participant and Union County Farm Bureau President Josiah Robinson said it’s important to come to Washington to get an idea of how it all works. “When you’re at home watching the news, the answers seem pretty easy, but here you see how much work it really takes to get anything done. It really gives you perspective.”
“Just getting face time with your legislator is important, and it’s important to them,” he said. “You don’t realize it until you do it yourself. It’s very important to come here and lobby for our ideas and livelihoods.”
“(Farm Bureau) membership allows us to have a voice and be able to speak up for what we need as farmers,” said Franklin County Farm Bureau President Katherine Harrison, a two-time participant. “Being united in Farm Bureau can give us a voice where there are also those who don’t have the experience we do. It’s a wonderful way to have an impact.”
Prior to meeting with their Congressional delegates, presidents received issues briefings from AFBF, heard from Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and Rob Portman (R), and an took part in annual forum of Ohio representatives and members of the House Agriculture Committee. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has hosted the forum for OFBF presidents for 21 years.
Throughout the trip, members of Congress shared many common issues.
The reduction of federal spending was on everyone’s mind. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), a past OFBF president, has made it a priority to cut spending. “If we continue on our current path…debt will go through the roof and interest will be the big expenditure.”
Boehner said Congress “will not shy away” when it comes to slashing spending. “We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” he said.
Ohio Reps. Steve Stivers , Jim Renacci and Bill Johnson also expressed strong support for eliminating the estate tax.
Brown, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, announced his “Grown in Ohio” listening tour he’ll be holding throughout the state, where he said he will turn to Ohio farmers to provide him the insight he needs to write a successful 2012 Farm Bill.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) cited the large number of first-year representatives as an opportunity to take time to review and dissect the bill, its titles and provisions.
Several lawmakers expressed disdain for increased regulation from federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“EPA is totally out of control,” said Boehner, adding that both sides of the aisle in the House Agriculture Committee are questioning the rule-making authority of the agency.
On the other hand, Brown said he would like to see stronger environmental regulations in some areas, citing western Ohio’s Grand Lake St. Marys and its water quality issues as an example.
Portman, was among many who said the government should open more international markets.
“We have some of the greatest farms in the world,” he said. “And if the government backs off and lets us (work), we can continue to lead the world.”