WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 100 Ohio Farm Bureau members, many of them farmers, visited Capitol Hill to speak with their district representatives, March 12-14, as part of the 73rd Ohio County Farm Bureau Presidents’ Trip to Washington, D.C.
Every year Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) takes Ohio County Farm Bureau presidents and vice presidents, along with a group of media, on a three-day trip to advocate to legislature.
Seth Middleton, Shelby County Farm Bureau president, met with Jared Dilley instead of Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio’s 4th congressional district, who was unable to make the meeting, for his congressional visit on Capitol Hill.
Middleton is the Assistant Vice President AgriBusiness Banker at Heartland Bank in Columbus. A Shelby County Farm Bureau member, he helps run the family’s grain and hay operation in Sidney.
Middleton said his biggest concerns are water quality and trade affecting Ohio. He asked Dilley how “common grounds across the aisle” can be accomplished in Congress.
He also said that increasing broadband and higher internet speeds in rural Ohio areas “could allow farmers to do things they haven’t able to do before,” referring to the farmers who do not have fast enough internet connection to use farm machinery which depends on high tech internet connection.
Middleton also asked Dilley what Jordan’s general thoughts were about water quality. “We’re not saying we’re the entire problem, but agriculture is a part of the [water quality] problem and we’re here to say we’re going to take care of it,” said Middleton.
Obtaining more access to broadband technologies and higher speed internet for rural areas is one of OFB’s top priorities for Ohio. Along with that, OFB advocates for the nation’s infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, locks and dams, ports and waterway systems.
Breakfast with the senators
The attendees had breakfast U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) on Wed., March 13 and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) on Thurs., March 14. Both senators talked about their agricultural concerns, some including broadband, trade and the division of the U.S.
“[This is] a troubling time in our country right now,” said Brown. “Jobs have moved overseas, while the opioid epidemic has moved in. Farm bankruptcies are up. Prices are low while input costs are high. It’s almost impossible to make a living without off-farm income.”
Portman agreed and said, “Prices aren’t good, weather is tough and things are tough in the farm economy.”
“Rural communities are often ignored by state and federal government,” said Brown, emphasizing that Ohio should be recognized as an “Ag state.”
Brown told the group about a recent trip he took to Iowa. “We went to a lot of smaller places, we didn’t spend a lot of time in Des Moines. I heard a lot of the same concerns in Iowa that I hear from Ohio farmers. But maybe the biggest takeaway I heard was that just like in Ohio, these small towns feel overlooked and ignored,” said Brown.
Portman said that his biggest concern is trade, adding that he has learned a lot about agriculture while working on trade issues. “Trade and agriculture are so close,” said Portman.
“We know that more needs to be done to increase access to broadband in rural Ohio, so we included a 14-fold increase in funding,” said Brown, referring to the Farm Bill. “It’s only with this level of federal investment that we can ensure that small businesses, farm families, and students have access to high speed internet. None of this would have been possible without your input.”
“This country is divided now,” said Brown, telling the group that they need to “keep the pressure on us…Tweets and name calling distract us.”
Climate change and taxes
Although Portman and Brown work on several Ohio agricultural issues together, they have some different viewpoints on issues, such as taxes and climate change.
Portman said that he talked to some small businesses benefiting from a little bit of a tax break from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed at the end of 2017. However, Brown said that “the tax cut went to no one in this room but to the one percent,” said Brown, speaking to the group during his breakfast.
During a media interview before his breakfast, Brown told reporters that anyone who continues to deny climate change should be “embarrassed.”
“I just don’t think there are two sides to the issue of climate change,” Brown said. “The facts are facts, and climate change is real…And it’s not really a political thing. It’s a fact thing.”
Portman said during his breakfast that “the science is uncertain” about the impact that humans have on climate change. “Do we have a role to play, yes, I think we do, but you can’t say that it’s just people.” Although Brown did not advocate the New Green Deal, Portman said that it is “outlandish” and “just doesn’t make sense.”
Portman added, “[There are] absolutely things we can do to reduce emissions,” but “we should do it in a way that’s pro growth, pro jobs, pro farmer. It doesn’t have to be either/or.”