WASHINGTON D.C. — Farmers in the United States are fortunate to be able to connect with legislature on top agriculture issues, according to Allen County Farm Bureau President Jim Hefner, who went on the 72nd annual Ohio County Farm Bureau President’s Trip.
“Most people don’t realize how fortunate we are to load up and go there and meet with our reps with minimal hassle,” said Hefner, who was able to meet with several representatives on Capitol Hill. He pointed out that this isn’t always the case in other countries.
Hefner, along with more than 100 other Ohio Farm Bureau members, connected with national leaders and policy-makers at the 72nd annual Ohio County Farm Bureau Presidents’ Trip, March 13-15, in Washington D.C. Hefner is a part-time farmer and, with the help of his son, farms about 450 acres.
Hefner was impressed with this year’s lineup, which included Speaker of the House Paul Ryan; Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman; Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt; American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall; USDA Undersecretary, Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney; Canadian Embassy representatives; Ohio Congressman Bob Gibbs; and many others.
He added that about every attendee was able to meet with their congressional representative on Capitol Hill. Hefner met with his, Jim Jordan, and the 2018 Farm Bill was a hot topic during that discussion. “Jordan pretty much told us that he’s not voting for the Farm Bill unless it includes labor regulations,” said Hefner.
During the trip, the Farm Bill was extended until after Easter break, as negotiations about SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and labor regulations continued among Washington.
Hefner added that a significant issue is uncertainty. “This farm bill expires in September and it would be nice to know what the next one will be so we know how to plan for coming years.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) spoke to the group during breakfast, focusing on the 2018 Farm Bill. Brown said that during his work on the 2007 Farm Bill, he had to “brush up” on certain Ag programs and policies. He added the best way for him to do that was to listen to farmers.
“The best ideas don’t come out of Washington,” said Brown. “The Senate Ag Committee is important, but that’s not where the real innovation happens in our food supply chain.” He also alluded to the round-tables he has had throughout Ohio, discussing important issues with various communities.
“One of the most important things we do on the Ag committee is to help the places that are too often overlooked by Washington,” said Brown. He added that his hope is to finish the Farm Bill by September.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also spoke to the Ohio County Farm Bureau members at breakfast. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) awarded Portman with AFBF’s Golden Plow award. Portman said that he recently purchased a farm, “a little piece of land,” in Warren County, with about 140 acres in row crops. He said that he is excited to get more involved with the Farm Bureau.
“I am really honored to represent the farmers and ranchers of our country. And in Ohio, Agriculture’s number one,” said Portman, emphasizing that half of Ohio is farmland. “We’re the biggest single industry in Ohio and that makes me really proud.”
He emphasized how farmers are struggling to find workers and the importance of the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), which aims to revise the federal rulemaking process.
“The Regulatory Accountability Act is really important,” said Portman. “We’re looking at way to fit it into the infrastructure bill, maybe. It’s bi-partisan, but barely.” He said that he has been working on this for five years.
“It’s just common-sense legislation. And it says let’s have some transparency here on regulations,” Portman said. “Let’s be sure that all the agencies and departments go through a cost analysis. You would not have had WOTUS with this legislation.” He said that with the Water of the United States (WOTUS) rule, no one went through the cost and the benefits before implementation.
Ted McKinney, the first person to serve as USDA Undersecretary, Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, followed Sen. Brown onto the stage.
“If you wonder whether showing up makes a difference, the answer is absolutely, unequivocally yes,” said McKinney, referring to the group’s visit to Washington. “There are problems we solve by sitting across the table. When you can make your case personally, it makes a difference.”
McKinney was sworn into his position Oct. 2017. He made three main points to the group during breakfast. His points included: showing up makes a difference; quality and reputation of U.S. products makes a difference; and “we are leaving no stone unturned at the USDA.”
Hefner said that there are still a lot of issues to be dealt with in Washington, such as the Farm Bill. However, he added “the people we met with are on the same page as we are,” as well as the Farm Bureau’s position with a lot of the top issues.
“When you get up there [Washington DC] and watch the city and the people around, all the people are doing the same thing, Ag or not — lobbying for their cause, their organization, occupation,” said Hefner. “Being there are so few farmers, it’s important we speak and fight for our industry.”
Ryan highlights forum
Ohio Congressman Bob Gibbs held a forum that featured several leaders of Washington—one of whom was Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Ryan spoke briefly on the 2018 Farm Bill, regulatory reform and tax reform, and then opened up the rest of his time for questions.
“We have a welfare system that is discouraging work, that’s telling people it pays not to work, and we don’t want to keep that going,” said Ryan. He then explained that the economy desperately needs focus on career education, training and developing skills.
“Regulatory relief, tax reform, work force development, which is skills, training and welfare reform — that is a very, very good two-year agenda for agriculture, and basically for manufacturing in the whole country,” said Ryan.
“We do have a philosophical divide with the role of the federal government in healthcare,” Gibbs said, answering a question about affordable health insurance and having access to preferred medical providers. Gibbs added, “That is, in a nutshell, here in Washington, what we’re struggling with.”
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt touched on water quality issues during breakfast.
“This idea that we as a country have to choose between jobs and growth and environmental protection is just simply a false choice,” said Pruitt. “The way we should do business as a country is recognize that God has blessed us with tremendous natural resources, into whom much is given, much is required,” a statement to which the crowd applauded.
He then continued with the emphasis that “we” have an obligation to use those natural resources for the benefit of mankind.
When Pruitt was sworn into office Feb. 2017, President Trump signed an executive order and told Pruitt to “get active and evaluate that WOTUS (Water of the United States) rule and to fix it.”
Pruitt said that within eight minutes, he had begun the process of rescinding “that deficient rule of 2015, the water in the United States rule.”
“[WOTUS] is going away and was not done the right way the first time. We’re fixing it, making sure that you have clarity,” said Pruitt. “As we go forward you’re going to have a new definition this year. In 2018, you’re going to have a new definition.”