Union County Farm Bureau President Ron Burns had a follow-up plan to the County Presidents’ trip to Washington, D.C. in motion before he even got on the airplane to return home.
Because Rep. Jim Jordan’s aide was not as familiar with agriculture, Burns and his eight colleagues set up a communications system to ensure that when the congressman’s office had an agriculture related question, Farm Bureau would be the first contact.
“We are starting an email chain. Anytime we have an opinion on a topic, we’re going to reach out to Jordan’s office and if they ever need any information from the region, they can email us and get our feedback,” Burns said. “It’s nice that we can do one-on-ones here but we want to expand that and have that conversation throughout the year.”
This year marked the 70th anniversary of Ohio Farm Bureau presidents meeting with their members of Congress to discuss issues of concern for agriculture and local communities. This year’s topics included GMO labeling, trade, the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, immigration, farm bill, veterinary feed directive and federal regulations.
About 100 Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents, staff, media and guests were on the three-day trip in mid-March. Not only did they meet with their legislator or aide but had breakfast with Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman and attended a congressional farm forum set up by Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs that featured nine influential members of Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan who started his speech by shouting “O-H”, followed by a resounding “I-O” from the audience.
American Farm Bureau experts briefed OFBF members about pressing agricultural issues and provided talking points to share with legislators. The group got an overview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Strike Force Initiative designed to help high poverty areas from Dr. Greg Parham, USDA’s assistant secretary for administration who is an Ohio native. They also visited the French and German embassies where they learned about agriculture and trade in those countries.
During a meeting with Rep. Joyce Beatty’s office, Franklin County Farm Bureau President Jeff Schilling talked extensively about the importance of having Congress pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which if passed would boost Ohio’s agricultural cash receipts by $186.6 million per year compared to not approving the free trade pact, according to an AFBF economic analysis. He also talked about how having a national GMO labeling standard in place before Vermont’s labeling bill goes into effect July 1 would help prevent consumer confusion and a spike in prices.
“This trip is extremely valuable because it gives us a chance to talk directly with our representatives,” Schilling said. “This isn’t a vacation; it’s a business trip. For us to leave our businesses for three days to come out here, I think that shows (legislators) the importance of these issues to us, and I hope it helps influence the way they vote knowing we feel passionately one way or the other.”
Read more from those who were on the ground on Capitol Hill.
Pictured above: Top – House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke to county presidents during a farm forum set up by Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs. Bottom left – Gary Wilson of Hancock County (r) and Paul Ralston of Hardin County expressed their concerns about a flood relief plan that could flood farmland in their area. Bottom right – Union County Farm Bureau President Ron Burns with Dr. Gregory Parham, assistant secretary for ag administration at the U.S. Department of Agriculture