As many of you know I am the current Vice President of the Montana Grain Growers Association. My position also allows me to serve on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Wheat Growers. As I have mentioned before I have a passion for farm policy, research, and public policy and I think it is important that people understand why I volunteer so much of my time to MGGA and NAWG.
Quite simply if farmers and other members of the agriculture community do not devote time and energy to policy advocacy work, the void that is left will be filled by others who do not have our best interest in mind.
Last week the National Association of Wheat Growers hosted a Policy Fly In in Washington D.C.. Pictures and updates of the fly in are available on Twitter. We were able to visit with almost every member of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, various meetings with committee staffers, and with our own Senators and Representatives. It was a great event and allowed us to further advocate for sound farm policy, a strong safety net, and gave us a greater platform to tell our stories.
What happened the week after in Washington D.C. was decidedly not good for production agriculture however. The R Street Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, The Heritage Foundation, Environmental Working Group (EWG) and other “like-minded” organizations met in Washington. Their organizations are banding together across a broad political spectrum (the Heritage Foundation is rooted in the far right while the EWG is known for its far left agenda). This summit was highlighted by opening remarks from Senator Jeff Flake (AZ) and Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR) who are both well-known opponents of our current farm policy structure.
A coalition of groups who have deep pockets and a keen interest in destroying U.S. farm policy, specifically our crop insurance safety net are a real threat to U.S. farmers. These groups have the time, ability, and resources to lobby in Washington extensively and to see them form a broad coalition is even more concerning. This is why I believe now more than ever producers need to do everything they can to reach out to their Senators and Representatives and whenever possible engage in policy work for individual farmers and for the larger farm organizations.
I know not everyone has the time, interest, or ability to volunteer large amounts of time to their policy organizations – on both the state and national level – but if you do have the ability and desire I implore you to get involved. Farmers make up 2% of the U.S. population – and that includes everyone with gross farm income of $1000 or more – so those of us in production agriculture make up even less of the population. If we do not work on our own behalf, groups like the Heritage Foundation, EWG, and Congressional members such as Mr. Flake and Mr. Blumenauer, will keep chipping away and eventually permanently alter our farm safety net. Jeopardizing our farm safety net jeopardizes all family owned farms across the country.
Luckily attacks on agriculture do not go unnoticed and are often rebuked by strong advocates for our current farm safety net. One of the best advocates for the farm safety net is none other than Brandon Willis, former administrator of the Risk Management Agency in the Obama Administration. At the same time as we were in Washington D.C. engaging Congressional members on the importance of a strong farm safety net, Brandon published an extensive study invalidating many of the Heritage Foundations claims about crop insurance.
The study is titled: How Heritage Foundation’s U.S. Farm Policy Would Put America Last and is available here. Some of the highlights include:
“U.S. agricultural output has almost tripled since 1948, 21 million American jobs are owed to agriculture, agriculture constitutes 5.5 percent of U.S. GDP, U.S. consumers are paying lower grocery bills than anywhere else in the world, the United States runs a trade surplus in agriculture, soil erosion has been cut in half since 1985, U.S. farm policy adds up to about one-quarter of one percent of the total federal budget. It is difficult to conclude U.S. farm policy is anything other than a success,”
Agriculture is not without its champions on the Hill either – especially in the form of many of the Senators and Representatives on the agriculture committees and current Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. These members provide a buffer between agriculture and its opponents however they need our support. These champions for agriculture need our help however as they are never going to be a replacement for grass-roots advocacy and while they can re-tell our stories, nothing is more effective than farmers telling their own stories.
Farmers and ranchers have long been pushed to tell their stories, advocate for their industry, and be a presence on-line and all of that is necessary however it is important that we do not forget where our policy truly comes from. Policy is derived from Washington D.C., crafted by Congressional members who take input from their constituents, we are their constituents and we need to tell them what we NEED. If we do not groups like the Heritage Foundation, R Street Institute, EWG and various other organizations will do it for us.
It is also okay if you do not have the time to volunteer for your state and national commodity organization, it is okay if policy is not your area of expertise, and it’s okay if you cannot travel to Washington D.C. to do advocacy work but know you can still make a difference. Write your congressional members, call their offices, tag them in social media posts, send them an email and simply tell them your story. Tell them why the farm safety net is vital to your operation, tell them your success stories, tell them about flaws in current policy, just tell them. Be a presence even if you cannot physically be present in their offices.
I still have several years left on the Montana Grain Growers Association and National Association of Wheat Growers board however the past few years have been wildly fulfilling, educational, and deeply gratifying. I enjoy knowing I have the ability to influence policy, advocate for changes when necessary, and truly make a difference for producers not only in Montana but across the nation. I also know policy work is never done, it will constantly be evolving, and will always require vigilance by producers and our advocates.
I will provide links to some of the commodity organizations that are active in Montana along with some links to national organizations and for others outside of Montana please Google your local organizations or look for them through the National organizations.
** This is not meant to be a comprehensive list however it is a few of the organizations I am most familiar with. Many of the local organizations provide a membership to the national organization as a member benefit. **