Farm Bureau members work on agricultural advocacy, issues in D.C.
Members of Montana Farm Bureau traveled to Washington, D.C. for the American Farm Bureau Issues Advisory Committee Meetings and Agricultural Advocacy Conference. The meetings, held February 22-25, centered around topics of importance to farmers and ranchers. MFBF members were appointed to serve on five of the 15 committees.
Turk Stovall, a rancher from Billings serving on the Animal Care Committee, talked about challenges of the initiative of turning buffalo out onto the rangeland. “I explained why this isn’t only a property rights problem, but a disease issue with the concern of brucellosis. If we start spreading bison across the state, there could be a real threat to livestock and public health.”
Stovall explained the group discussed the definition of ambulatory and non-ambulatory animals and how they should be managed. They also covered other animal care topics and what constitutes animal abuse versus regular management practices.
“We also touched on the Veterinary Feed Directives, especially regarding antibiotics, which was a huge topic for us last year.”
Bruce Wright, a small agricultural business owner from Bozeman, serves on the Farm Policy Committee. “We said because of Obama’s latest budget, crop insurance cuts were a concern. Our committee’s position is it would be harmful to readjust funding in the new farm bill when we are barely half way into implementing it. Trying to tamper with the farm bill after all the work that has gone into it is not good,” said Wright.
The committee heard a representative from the National Ag Statistics Service explain how the NASS gathers numbers for farm surveys and how that fits into the crop insurance picture. “We had a speaker from the Heritage Foundation who is preparing a paper on farm subsidies. It’s due to be released soon. This will provide a different point of view as Heritage Foundation is not fond of subsidies.”
Larry Switzer, a Richey cattle rancher said the meeting of the Market Structures Committee primarily revisited a resolution they had developed at last year’s meetings on bonding requirements for livestock dealers and the current cost of cattle.
“We had a speaker from the CTFC talk to us about high frequency trading,” Switzer said. “Apparently high frequency trading means they can do 200 trades per second. The belief is we need to slow that down for commodities, as it’s not viable to use it for hedging and it’s just a paper trade that does nothing for commodity producers.”
Gary Heibertshausen, a sheep rancher from Alzada, serves on the Environmental Regulations Committee. “Our discussion centered on the Endangered Species Act as well as on the new regulations coming down the pike for clean air, clean power and clean fuel. It’s interesting that the EPA wants power companies to lower their carbon emissions to 70 parts per million, but many are unable to get their carbon down that low.”
“We discussed how to reach the non-agricultural public about endangered species and what that means to everyone. As a rancher, I can lose my own property because of endangered species, but nobody knows what the cost is to maintain that species, and now there is talk that taking ag land out of production might not be the best way to protect an endangered species. We need to figure out how to tell our story so the public will be more sympathetic.”
Tom DePuydt, who serves on the Federal Lands Committee, said his group focused on the Antiquities Act and the new national monuments. “Sometimes it feels like we are fighting a winless battle,” DePuydt said. “Farmers and ranchers are less than two percent of the population and we have 12 states with federal lands. One of the concerns we voiced was that the local input of federal agencies is often ignored. We talked about wild horses and burros in western states being a huge problem, with the expense of holding them and the concerns around land management.”
Telling your story was the main theme behind the Ag Advocacy Conference that took place following the committee meetings.
“The conference reminded all of us in agriculture that we need to tell our story and that it is very important to be informed,” noted Stovall. “They reiterated the need to be more open about sharing our story with people who just don’t know about ag. We need to embrace social media. An animal rights group can push a button and sent out thousands of tweets that smear agriculture. How can we work with that? We need to be able to push the button and get the truth out.”
DePuydt says on his trip to Washington, he had the opportunity to put advocacy into practice. “I engaged with several people in the airport and on the plane about our story. Even visiting like that with the public is a good opportunity to get our message to them.”
On the last day in Washington, D.C., the group attended the Montana Breakfast on Capitol Hill where they visited with Senator Jon Tester, Senator Steve Daines and Representative Ryan Zinke. Later in the day, the group had individual meetings with Senator Zinke and Representative Daines, we well as with Janelle Diluccia of Senator Tester’s staff.
Each member of the group had an issue to talk with their congressmen about. “My topic was Senator Roberts labeling bill,” said Wright. “Gary talked about regulatory reform, Turk talked about Bureau of Indian Affairs issues including land purchasing, Tom visited about public lands, bison and the Antiquities Act and Larry discussed trade. They were open to hearing our ideas, and certainly Representative Zinke and Senator Daines showed strong support for our issues.”
Source: Montana Farm Bureau Federation
Photo left to right: Senator Jon Tester, Turk Stovall, Nicole Rolf, Gary Heibertshausen, Representative Ryan Zinke, Tom DePuydt, Chelcie Cargill, Larry and Charlene Switzer and Senator Steve Daines.