From Sept. 11-14, North Dakota Farmers Union led a group of nearly 100 farmers and ranchers to Washington, D.C., to convince lawmakers to get to work on the farm bill, fix trade issues and protect the Renewable Fuel Standard.
NDFU President Mark Watne called the fly-in a success. It was the largest National Farmers Union fly-in in recent memory, as over 350 from across the nation lobbied legislators.
“NDFU is proud we were able to send 100 individuals to fight for what is right for agriculture in the farm bill and trade,” he said. “This fly-in is only the start of our efforts to make noise about the seriousness of the crisis facing family farms.”
As a first-time fly-in participant, Lori Blocker of Ashley said the members of Congress she lobbied were receptive.
“I felt some of them really are worried, and they had concerns about the issues we, as North Dakotans, also have issues with,” Blocker said.
On Sept. 12, NDFU listened to presentations from the USDA including Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Chief Agriculture Negotiator Gregg Doud also spoke about trade issues.
Stutsman County Farmers Union President Mike Huebner said he didn’t come away from the meeting at USDA with a good feeling.
“The biggest surprise (on the fly-in) was listening to USDA and their attitude that everything was really good,” he said. “They didn’t seem to have a grasp on how bad it is on the farm.”
After lunch, NDFU members listened to eight members of Congress including Senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven of North Dakota, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
Heitkamp said issues with the farm bill and trade need to be solved before it gets any worse.
“There’s a crisis in the making for many North Dakota farmers, and they deserve better than being treated like collateral damage in the administration’s trade war,” she said. “Amid ongoing trade uncertainty, farmers and ranchers need a strong, bipartisan bill that protects crop insurance, gives growers much-needed predictability, and expands — not shrinks — their access to global markets.”
NFU President Roger Johnson – a former agriculture commissioner in North Dakota – echoed Heitkamp’s statements.
“Family farmers and ranchers are in the midst of the worst decline in the farm economy in decades, and they want to see action from their federal representatives,” Johnson said. “It is critical right now for family farm agriculture to have the support of Congress and the administration. And that support can come through immediate passage of the farm bill and movement on a long-term, legislative solution that protects family farmers from the significant damage occurring to our trade markets.”
On Sept. 13, fly-in participants spread out to ensure that all 535 congressional offices were visited. Huebner, for example, was part of a group of four that had a sit-down visit with legislative liaison Sarah Hanson. She works for Rep. Charlie Christ, a former Florida governor who represents the St. Petersburg-Clearwater area in the House of Representatives.
“They seemed concerned about our issues,” Huebner said. “I thought it would be a little more intimidating, but it wasn’t so bad.”
For NDFU, the final day of the fly-in was all about the board of governors. Staff informed the board of governors about the progress of NDFU projects, and the board took a vote on NDFU’s stances on the four initiated measures in the upcoming election.
Trevor Hokana, a young farmer from Ellendale, said he was proud to be part of an historic fly-in.
“It was great to get out here and see government in action,” he said. “It’s great to see people in North Dakota actively engaged. I’m glad to see we can make a big presence here and people do listen and that government does still work.
“There was quite a presence with 100 people. When you look across the room and see that amount of people, it makes that much more of an impact.”
— Chris Aarhus, NDFU