Commentary: Farmers provide a dose of reality on Capitol Hill


Issue Date: June 12, 2019
By Alana Fowler and Ian Vietti
Leadership Farm Bureau class members Alana Fowler of Penn Valley and Ian Vietti of Visalia pose outside the White House, which they visited during the California Farm Bureau Federation Leadership Trip to Washington, D.C.
Photo/Christine Souza

We in agriculture can all feel the impacts of regulation, taxes and other mandates that elected officials pass and agencies administer, and often wonder, "Why did they do that?" The answer is simple: That's what the experts told the staffers; the staffers briefed the elected officials; the officials adopted the brief as policy; and eventually codified some version of it as law.

So how do we change that?

We, as agriculture experts, must tell our stories to the staffers and elected officials, and help them to understand the impacts of potential legislation at the ground level on our farms and ranches.

However, this isn't accomplished in a single meeting; we need to develop long-term relationships so that when a public official or a member of their staff calls, we are the first person they think of.

The California Farm Bureau Federation Leadership Trip to Washington, D.C., built upon the base work Farm Bureau has already established, with the nine Leadership Farm Bureau class members, seven county Farm Bureau leaders, CFBF officers and staff members meeting legislators, congressional staff and agency officials to begin developing those important personal connections and provide perspective on current issues and legislation.

Current legislation was certainly a top focus for the group. Shortly before our arrival, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement had gotten a boost from the withdrawal of steel tariffs by President Trump. At every meeting, we pushed for quick passage of the USMCA and explained how it would provide economic relief to farmers by reducing barriers to markets, as well as increasing pressure on China, the European Union and other countries to provide better trade agreements.

Also, immigration reform—especially the unwieldiness of the current H2-A program for agricultural employees—was of high importance. We urged solutions that provide for a stable and available workforce, so we can continue to provide healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables that require short-term seasonal employees.

We also provided information and impacts on wildfire funding and forest management, rural infrastructure, the California water system, and reforming the Food Safety Modernization Act based on produce best practices, rather than one-size-fits-all rules.

One thing to note if you ever attend a trip like this: It's going to be a whirlwind of activity! Our main legislator-meeting day consisted of a White House tour; a meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with Chris Chaffee of the White House staff, who briefed us on the second Market Facilitation Program; then, in only four hours, we managed to meet with 13 members of Congress, conduct eight staffer meetings and 11 briefing packet drop-offs. The evening featured a dinner with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson and a late-night private tour of the Capitol with Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno. Sixteen hours of non-stop activity seems to be the norm for D.C., so make sure you have comfortable walking shoes!

It wasn't a just single day of meetings, though. The day before our congressional meetings, American Farm Bureau Federation policy specialists prepared us for the meetings; we also met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein's staff, had a briefing and meeting at the French Embassy, and had dinner with Sara Wyant of the Agri-Pulse news service.

Our final day in Washington started with breakfast with Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois and Rep. Rick Crawford of Arkansas. Then it was off to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to meet with officials of the Foreign Agriculture Service, Marketing & Regulatory Programs, Veterinary Services and Farm Production and Conservation. To round out the business portion of the trip, we met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's agricultural staff at the Capitol and further advocated for USMCA.

It wasn't all work. CFBF President Jamie Johansson treated us to a walking tour of National Mall monuments, we got caught in an F1-level microburst at Arlington National Cemetery, enjoyed a local farm-to-fork restaurant, and explored the capital on electric scooters.

It became apparent that the more that Farm Bureau members can make the trip to Washington and interact with our leaders, the more we all will benefit.

We as farmers can provide a dose of reality, report the actual implications at ground level of the laws and policies that are passed, and cultivate the relationships that will bear fruit in the future for our industry.

We encourage you to meet with your representative and their staff members when they are in their districts, and consider making a policy trip to Washington with Farm Bureau. It is our stories that nurture the seeds of change, and who else but farmers have the expertise to grow the future of the United States of America to be as bountiful as our own farms?

(Alana Fowler is a Nevada County rancher; Ian Vietti is an agronomist in Tulare County. Both are members of the 2019 Leadership Farm Bureau class.)

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