Last month you may remember that I was in Washington, D.C., with Ohio Farm Bureau staff and other county presidents from all over the state. As with any trip, it’s always best to be flexible, especially in D.C. Even though all didn’t go completely as planned, this presidents’ trip did not disappoint.
All three days were full, starting with a 6:05 a.m. flight out of Cleveland. Lucky for me, my sister lives 10 minutes from the airport and was kind enough to drop me off. By 11:15 a.m., participants were in their seats ready for “information overload.” There is just no other way to put it. The Ohio and American Farm Bureaus organize speakers to cover current agricultural issues and topics.
A topic that I was sure was going to come up was broadband connectivity. With both parties in the House and Senate in support of rural connectivity, why hasn’t it happened? We found out a big part of the problem is the mapping — who is served, who is not served and who is underserved. The U.S. House recently passed S. 1822, the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability, by unanimous consent. This comprehensive bill would improve the accuracy of the broadband coverage maps and better direct the federal funds to where they are really needed. Hopefully, sometime soon.
I have heard Dr. John Newton, American Farm Bureau chief economist, speak several times, and I always look forward to hearing from him. This time, he painted a picture of the farm economy that is just depressing. Last year, 2019, was the eighth consecutive year with a decreasing farm income. Farm debt is increasing, and farm bankruptcies are up 20%. Real estate prices are at an all-time high. We have lost 10% of the dairy farms in the U.S. Ohio lost 260, Pennsylvania lost 470 and Wisconsin lost 780 dairy farms in 2019. I was starting to wonder if Dr. Newton had any good news for farmers.
He began updating us on trade, so — yes and no. The U.S. pulled out of the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership, which resulted in decreased access to markets. But the new USMCA and new agreements with South Korea, Japan and China have helped level the playing field. Agricultural products are the biggest part of phase one of the China deal, which should help. Keep in mind this update was on March 10. Much has happened in the world since then.
U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-7th District, hosted the Ag Forum, a trip tradition. We heard from seven additional congressmen from different states. They each shared their committee appointments and discussed current issues.
A highlight of the trip for me was visiting the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It was there that we were briefed by Ted McKinney, undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, United States Department of Agriculture. Undersecretary McKinney leads the development and implementation of the Department’s trade policy, oversees and facilitates foreign market access, and promotes opportunities for U.S. agriculture through various trade programs and high-level government negotiations. He has a big title and huge responsibilities to the farmers in the U.S. After our briefing, which was more like a conversation with a good friend, I feel like he is the person I want leading agricultural trade missions. He grew up on his family’s grain and animal farm in Indiana. I came away convinced that McKinney’s passion for agriculture and the American farmer is real.
We were pretty much running on schedule at that point of the trip, but Wednesday afternoon an aide for a congressman from Washington was diagnosed with COVID-19. Participants were scheduled to meet with their congressmen on Thursday to share information and advocate for agriculture. Due to the illness report, these meetings were canceled. Even though I was not able to meet with Reps. Tim Ryan and David Joyce, who represent parts of Trumbull County, I would like to thank them both for their part in getting the USMCA passed. I also thank them both for reaching out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to look at Ohio’s 2019 federal disaster declaration due to severe weather conditions. And on top of that, for their co-sponsorship and support of the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability bill, I thank them.
It is very unfortunate that we are currently dealing with COVID-19 and all the ramifications that go along with it. At times like these, I am reminded why advocacy for agriculture is necessary every day.
Submitted by Mary Smallsreed, a Trumbull County Farm Bureau member who grew up on a family farm in northeast Ohio.
OFBF Mission: Working together for Ohio farmers to advance agriculture and strengthen our communities.