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Face time with policymakers isn’t always easy, but farmers find a way
by Seth Teter
Buckeye Farm News
Despite an often rancorous political climate, farmers are finding constructive ways to weigh in on public policy as they continue a busy season of engagement with elected officials. Here's how Ohio Farm Bureau recently connected members with lawmakers:
Ohio Farm Bureau's AgDay at the Capital in Columbus
Ohio Farm Bureau's county presidents’ trip to Washington, D.C.
In a major election year, the organization also will be working to engage candidates on issues important to agriculture and rural Ohio.
A recent National Public Radio report indicated just how valuable these platforms can be. Referring to Congress, the report stated that “the truth is that the vast majority of Americans will never actually meet their lawmakers. To be fair, not everyone wants to. But among those who do, there’s serious competition for a lawmaker’s time. So, how does an average citizen get access on Capitol Hill? The quick answer: It’s not easy.”
Yvonne Lesicko, Ohio Farm Bureau’s senior director of state and national policy, said the organization provides its members with unique opportunities to speak out on the issues that matter to them.
“When our county presidents call to make an appointment with their member of Congress in Washington, it’s well received,” she said. “The representative knows that while they’re going to have five to 10 Farm Bureau members sitting in their office, those farmers represent many, many more voting constituents back in the district.”
For Mike Videkovich, the Pickaway County Farm Bureau president, building a relationship with his congressman, Rep. Steve Stivers, has allowed him to elevate issues that are affecting his farm. During Ohio Farm Bureau’s county presidents’ trip, Videkovich raised questions about what the new farm bill’s provisions regarding the Conservation Reserve Program would mean for how he raises his cattle.
“My concern was whether or not there are going to be any restrictions put on land being pulled out of the CRP program,” Videkovich said. “I’ve talked to Rep. Stivers multiple times about this issue and am writing a letter to him so that it can be submitted to the USDA on my behalf from his office.”
Stivers said Videkovich’s willingness to keep lines of communication open helps him put context to the issues.
“Farmers are lucky to have folks like Mike Videkovich that engage on an ongoing basis,” he said.
While Videkovich enjoys the public policy process, there is another reason he stays involved.
“What motivates me to participate is knowing that there are others with an opposing view trying to change policies, regulations and laws to something that won’t have my best interests in mind,” he said.
Following the trip, Stivers continued the dialogue with Farm Bureau members. He shared a letter he had sent to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative advocating that farmers be treated fairly in negotiations of a trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And he says there is more work to be done on issues such as regulation, labor and taxes.
“(Farmers) didn’t go into farming to call Washington or fill out a bunch of government paperwork,” Stivers said.
Recently, the congressman was back in his district on Dennis Wilt’s Madison County farm for a meeting coordinated by the local Farm Bureau.
“It’s a positive for both Congressman Stivers and those attending the roundtable. Because he does want to hear your concerns and your questions, and he does want to address every one of them,” Wilt said.
Wilt has participated in numerous Farm Bureau sponsored activities to connect with lawmakers as well as attending local meetings and political fundraising events.
“The most effective way that I’ve found to engage lawmakers is face-to-face. Most politicians want to hear from you; they want to be on the farm,” he said.
Wilt recalled how powerful it was to share a personal story last year about how proposed youth labor restrictions would have limited his grandson’s ability to help out in the family business.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is for farmers — small or large — to join Farm Bureau and the commodity groups of the products they raise,” Wilt said. “They should speak out through these groups.”
Stivers described these local meetings with constituents as “eye-opening” and a necessary part of his job.
“It’s really important for me to understand what my constituents are going through so I can represent them well,” he said.
In the run-up to the November elections, Farm Bureau members will be meeting with candidates to evaluate how their views relate to the organization’s priorities. The organization’s election guide, which will be included later this year in Buckeye Farm News and Our Ohio magazine, will help you make an informed decision as you head into the polls.
If you are interested in hosting either Republican or Democratic candidates on your farm to help them better understand agricultural issues, Ohio Farm Bureau can help you make that connection.
Contact Lacey Meeks at [email protected] to learn how you can get involved in the election process.