Commentary: Washington trip shows value of in-person advocacy

Issue Date: June 6, 2018
By Brad Fowler and Jessica Sweeten
Leadership Farm Bureau class members Brad Fowler of Penn Valley and Jessica Sweeten of Hilmar, shown during a recent advocacy trip to Washington, D.C., encourage fellow Farm Bureau members to participate in visits with elected representatives.
Photo/Christine Souza

In May, our Leadership Farm Bureau class had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., alongside California Farm Bureau Federation leadership, the CFBF Federal Policy team and county Farm Bureau representatives from Shasta County to Tulare County.

The Leadership Farm Bureau program has trained us in many skills, including team building, advocacy, media relations, communications and public speaking. This trip was an opportunity to put all those acquired skills to work on behalf of California agriculture and California Farm Bureau.

Before our Leadership Farm Bureau training, most of us had never had occasion to meet with any other than our county-level elected representatives.

In March, we met with our state representatives in Sacramento and began to see the importance of personal interaction with policymakers.

On this trip, the value of having a personal conversation was even more important, because the policymakers can be less connected to their constituents, as many spend a lot of time in Washington. Our ability to explain how federal policies impact our livelihoods as constituents was critical in meetings with legislators.

Our first day consisted of policy issue briefings in the morning, with familiarization on the topics of trade, water, immigration and the farm bill, and meetings in the afternoon.

Our first meeting was at the British Embassy with trade officials. We discussed Brexit, the impact it may have on agricultural trade and the opportunities it presents for more open commerce with the United States and California. It was eye-opening to hear how many issues they are still working through and the challenges they are facing. What a great occasion to start a relationship between California Farm Bureau and Great Britain.

Our next meeting was with Ambassador Gregg Doud, chief agricultural negotiator for the United States Trade Representative. With Ambassador Doud, we expressed concerns about a trade war with China and how it has already adversely affected California farmers.

Late that evening, we did a walking tour of the National Mall, guided by CFBF President Jamie Johansson. For those of us who had never been to Washington before, it was very memorable.

Our second day, we broke into smaller groups and met with many of our California representatives.

The biggest issue while we were there was the 2018 Farm Bill, as a vote was taking place that week. We heard lawmakers' concerns, and were able to advocate and answer questions pertaining to how the farm bill would directly impact California agriculture and our individual operations. Many of us also had the chance to see the farm bill being debated on the House floor, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

As many are aware, the farm bill will be up for a vote again this month. We urge all farmers and ranchers to make their voices heard and contact elected officials to share the importance of passing a farm bill that works for California. We hope that you will join us in making a phone call or writing to your elected representative to share your personal story. Big or small, you can make an impact!

LFB class members Jason Gianelli, Joe Ferrari and Joseph Alexandre were able to attend a news conference with Farmers for Free Trade. As part of the news conference, Jason discussed the importance of export markets to California farmers and ranchers.

In all of our meetings and discussions, it was made clear the value of having real people advocate on behalf of matters that affect our farms and ranches.

The third day started with a Capitol tour led by the office of Rep. Kevin McCarthy. We split into two groups and met with Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Devin Nunes. Discussion focused on trade, farm bill and the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The Leadership Farm Bureau Class wrapped up with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, to pay our respects to those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. It was a sobering finish to a busy trip.

Erin Johnson, LFB class member and executive director of Shasta County Farm Bureau, said about the trip, "It gave me full confidence in the efforts of California Farm Bureau in sharing the story of every farmer and rancher in the diverse state of California that we represent day in and day out."

We are grateful for the opportunity to represent California agriculture in Washington, D.C., and thankful to staff for making everything go so smoothly. If anyone has not been on legislative visits, we would encourage them to try it out and see what a difference their stories can make.

(Brad Fowler of Penn Valley is president of the Nevada County Farm Bureau and owns and operates a grazing business. Jessica Sweeten of Hilmar is a sales representative with Horizon Ag Products. Both are members of the 2018 class of Leadership Farm Bureau.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.