2019 Washington, D.C. Leadership Experience

Ohio Farm Bureau’s AgriPOWER Class IX and Young Ag Professionals group spent an educational three days in Washington, D.C. Sept. 10-12. The trip provided our current and future leaders the opportunity to share their ideas with members of Congress, to learn about international agriculture, and how to grow personally and professionally. 

The trip included a visit with congressional representatives, attending a USMCA rally, meeting with American Farm Bureau staff members for industry and issues updates, a behind-the-scenes look at how Washington really works, networking with other young professionals, and exploring a world view of agriculture during a visit to the Ireland Embassy.

These dedicated participants represent Ohio agriculture’s current and future leaders and advocates. The Farm Bureau staff works hard to represent members’ interests, but it’s the farmer who can make the most difference. Because of that, this week’s activities are important to advancing Ohio agriculture.

Thursday, September 12

The third and final day of the Leadership Experience was focused on congressional visits. Meeting with their local congressional members is the pinnacle of the trip for our members. Having the opportunity to share stories from their own farm personalizes the national issues. Top of mind this trip certainly was trade, rural broadband and healthcare. One message driven home was the desperate need for economic stability, which USMCA could provide. On the reverse side, the congressional members and staff were interested in Farm Bureau’s efforts in the mental health crisis. The participants distributed the “I am more than my farm” business cards in their meetings. “My biggest takeaway is that our congressional members are really there for us; all we have to do is reach out and voice our concerns. They will get back with us, and we can come to a conclusion that maybe benefits all,” said Lane Heil, a Young Ag Professional from Muskingum County.

Pictured L to R: Jared Persinger, Jennifer Starcher, Bailey Montoya, Representative Michael Turner, Luke and Cassandra Dull, Kelli Hartman

We need Congress to pass the USMCA trade agreement to bring certainty to our already-positive trade relationship with our closest neighbors and build on that relationship with new opportunities and commitments.

While on the Hill, the group got to experience a rally in support of the passage of USMCA. “Farm Bureau members have come to Washington, D.C., to remind our elected representatives that trade is a lifeline for tens of thousands of family farms.

 “We need Congress to pass the USMCA trade agreement to bring certainty to our already-positive trade relationship with our closest neighbors and build on that relationship with new opportunities and commitments. The benefits of the USMCA are clear. Estimates indicate we will gain more than $2 billion in additional farm exports and $65 billion in gross domestic product once the agreement is in place.

 “The farm economy is reeling from the trade war combined with weather challenges and six years of lower farm income. Farmers want and need a better trade outlook and passing USMCA is a great step forward. Thank you to the members of the House Agriculture Committee, including Chairman Peterson and Ranking Member Conaway, for their support and their participation in today’s Rally for USMCA. We look forward to working with them and others in Congress to get the deal passed,” said Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau president.

YAP and AgriPOWER participants meet with Zippy Duval, AFBF president, at the USMCA rally.

Another highlight from the day was participating in a Senate session in the Senate Ag Committee Room. Matt Erickson, chief economist for the US Senate Committee on Agriculture and Joe Shultz, Democratic staff director at US Senate Committee on Agriculture, gave an overview of what goes on in the ag committee to discuss the Farm Bill and anything ag related. Young Ag Professional participant Ben Bowsher inquired about the preparation of the next Farm Bill and whether or not crop insurance assistance would be included. The response was that crop insurance is a very vital part and they do not anticipate any changes, and in fact they are looking into how to contribute more to conservation efforts, especially in light of recent water quality concerns.

This group didn’t shy away from asking tough, thoughtful questions and their passion for agriculture emanated in every interaction.

Overall, the trip has been a success. “I am thoroughly impressed with the leadership this group has exhibited over the course of our trip. Ohio’s Young Ag Professionals effectively communicated to our congressional leaders the issues surrounding agriculture that they feel are most important. This group didn’t shy away from asking tough, thoughtful questions and their passion for agriculture emanated in every interaction. We are grateful for the support and encouragement from Ohio Farm Bureau,” said Kelsey Turner, OFBF Leadership Development Program Specialist.

Wednesday, Sept. 11

Jim Carroll, Office of National Drug Control Policy director

Day 2 of the Leadership Experience highlighted the juxtaposition of local and global agriculture, featuring visits to an embassy as well as a local urban garden. The day began with an engaging talk with Jim Carroll, Office of National Drug Control Policy director. He was joined by Anne Hazlett, ONDCP senior advisor for rural affairs. Director Carroll delved into the work his office does to reduce drug use and its consequences in the U.S. The three main priorities are treatment, prevention and stopping the flow of drugs into the country. While the drug crisis in America, particularly in rural areas, continues, there has been improvement. Of note, in 2018, 5% fewer people died of drug-related causes, and in Ohio, that rate was triple the national average, at 15% fewer deaths. It was a lively exchange between the speaker and the group, and Director Carroll commended everyone on their thoughtful questions and remarks.

Thank you to the American Farm Bureau staff for the tour of your offices.

From there, the group traveled to Ireland, more specifically, the Ireland Embassy. The group had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Daniel Mulhall, Ambassador of Ireland to the United States. After Ambassador Mulhall gave brief remarks, Dr. Finbar Brown, Agriculture and Food attaché, addressed the group. Ireland has $1 billion in exports to the United States, primarily Kerry Gold butter and Irish Whiskey. Brown focused on the major concerns for Ireland with regard to Brexit. The impact of Brexit will be felt greatest in the ag sector, particularly due to trade with the United Kingdom. The situation is further complicated by the division of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which currently has open borders.  Brown mentioned that the Irish Government has always been very clear about their twin objectives since the UK decided to leave the EU – protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process, including avoiding the emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland, and protecting the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it.

Following the presentation, the group enjoyed some Irish tea and coffee, and of course baked goods with Irish butter.

After the Embassy visit, the next stop was at the Common Good City Farm, which is an urban farm that grows produce that is sold through a CSA and an on-site farmers market, It also provides hands-on training and programming for adults and children in the community, which allows them to participate in the growing process. This nonprofit, urban farm raises vegetables, plus has a fruit orchard, beehives and a community compost cooperative.

The afternoon wrapped up with a presentation from Cary Sifferath, senior director of global programs, U.S. Grains Council. The group learned that the total value of grain trade to Ohio’s economy is $1,097,100,000 and contributes $338,900,000 to the gross state product. Grain trade has added more than 7,000 jobs in Ohio. The group appreciated learning the specifics of global trade impact in our own state.

Tuesday, Sept. 10

“All politics are local at the end of the day. We should think local and act local. Don’t overlook that. But you should be active at all levels and trips like this build upon that strong local foundation. Take this opportunity to really hit home your asks for your member of Congress.”

American Farm Bureau Director, Congressional Relations Andrew Walmsley kicked off the guest speakers for Day 1 with this call to action, which is an ideal message for the Leadership Experience participants. The group welcomed speakers from AFBF, who gave a detailed overview of a variety of priority issues. The updates are valuable for the members to hear, even if they may not be directly impacted by a specific issue on their own farms. While having this broad national scope of information is important, Jack Irvin, OFBF senior director, state and national affairs, impressed upon the group that it’s the personal, local stories shared with the congressional leaders that makes the most impact.

The updates included much-needed guest worker program reform, the importance of getting USMCA passed, and the discrepancy in the USDA farm sector income forecast versus what financial indicators such as farm debt, farm-related income, loan delinquencies and bankruptcies show.

“Congress, it’s time to harvest USMCA.” David Salmonsen, AFBF senior director of governmental relations, explained that agriculture and Farm Bureau at all levels support USMCA. He said we want the continuity and certainty of trade with Mexico and Canada. “It’s good to trade with your neighbors.”

Participants broke out into groups to do pre-planning for the congressional visits later this week.

After the congressional planning sessions, the group headed out to the Arlington National Cemetery, which includes  President John F. Kennedy’s grave site with the Eternal Flame and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier complete with the changing of the guard. The tour was packed with history.