The genesis of this column is a question I was asked from a reporter following an NFU fly-in to Washington, D.C., Sept. 11-13: “What is the importance of doing a fly-in?”
I think it is a fair question, but perhaps it’s more of a symptom of the times and people’s frustration with our legislative process. Lobbying is as much an information gathering tool for elected officials as it is for lobbyists. Some elected officials may see it as bothersome, but in most cases, it is the only opportunity to see the impact of their legislative actions.
Farmers and ranchers, like many citizens, need organizations to represent them in the political arena as most do not have the time to do it individually. As lobbyists, we must represent policies that members support. Secondly, and maybe most importantly, is our responsibility to respond to misinformation that other lobbyists provide.
If we don’t speak up, others will be there representing what they believe is in our interest. The best examples of this are the Environmental Working Group and the Heritage Foundation, two organizations that are working to eliminate farm programs and crop insurance.
The recent fly-in focused on several priorities:
• A new farm bill and maintaining funding levels to make it effective;
• Keeping and enhancing crop insurance;
• Expanding renewable fuels and establishing E-30 as the new standard;
• Health insurance improvements;
• Help with the drought, including disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers.
NDFU brought 47 of the 320 people who attended the fly-in. In groups of four, we visited all Senate and House offices, dropping off information and visiting with key people in each office on the issues listed above.
We also met with federal grain and export inspectors on sampling and deduction charts for vomitoxin. We had met with Food & Drug Administration officials earlier in the year to discuss extreme deductions for vomitoxin levels, accuracy of testing equipment and food industry requirements. We met, too, with the staff of each of our congressional offices and informed them about the seriousness of the drought and the need for greater support of the farm bill and crop insurance.
While in D.C., the NDFU board met with Farm Service Agency officials to discuss the needs of farmers and ranchers, especially underfunded programs, and programs that farmers and ranchers qualify for but never receive the dollars promised.
Doing advocacy work for our members is an essential component of our farm organization. Reminding elected officials that the U.S. has the greatest food production system in the world – family farm and ranch agriculture – is a message that bears continuous repeating.
— NDFU President Mark Watne