Commentary: Trip to Washington shows the value of advocacy

Issue Date: June 1, 2016
By Mindy DeRohan and Johnnie White
After participating in a Farm Bureau advocacy trip to Washington, D.C., Leadership Farm Bureau class members Johnnie White and Mindy DeRohan encourage other Farm Bureau members to do the same.
Photo/Christine Souza

In a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to George Washington, he said, "Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute to real wealth, good morals, and happiness."

This quote provided a common thread throughout the recent Leadership Farm Bureau and Federal Policy advocacy trip to Washington, D.C. Leadership Farm Bureau has taught our class many skills, including communication, public speaking, state advocacy and team building. During this trip, we were able to pull out the skills we had learned thus far and put them to work advocating for agriculture.

The trip started with an introduction to Washington and a policy issues briefing. Having advocated only at the state level, one thing that was abundantly clear was the difference between politics and issues on the federal and state levels. We observed that policy at the federal level is much more focused on issues and big-picture legislation, where our experience at the state level was focused on specific bills. It was also obvious speaking with members of Congress and their staff that little work will get done until after the presidential election.

The first day of the trip included meetings with a D.C. advocacy firm and with CropLife America. Van Scoyoc Associates, the advocacy firm, works with the California Farm Bureau Federation and other California organizations on a variety of issues, most recently drought legislation. The CropLife America team supports all farming practices that help grow safe and healthy food. The team described their federal policy work and communication efforts.

The Farm Bureau group had a unique opportunity to meet with Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois. His perspective on California agriculture, as an outsider looking in, was very interesting. Rep. Davis has visited California farms and ranches and is committed to helping solve some of the many issues that surround Western agriculture.

Day two included Sen. Dianne Feinstein's constituent breakfast, where she talked about the work she is doing, specifically related to the California drought. She spent a large part of her speech focusing on the importance of California agriculture.

Next came congressional constituent visits. During the visits, we broke into small groups to meet with congressional members and their staff about the many issues important to California agriculture. These issues included the drought, GMO labeling, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, national monument expansions, forest and wildfire management, and more.

This was our chance to share our personal stories and experiences, to help congressional members understand how agriculture is affected. As the quote from Thomas Jefferson illustrates, our country depends on agriculture and our group worked to convey this at more than 30 congressional visits.

The group also met with members of the House Agriculture Committee from California, including Reps. Jim Costa, Pete Aguilar and Jeff Denham, along with committee staff members.

It was interesting to hear how the bipartisan committee works on issues that affect California agriculture, including the farm bill and the drought. The committee was very interested to see how the 2014 Farm Bill is working for farmers and ranchers in California and what can be improved for the next farm bill, which is coming in 2018.

The topic of drought came up through many of our visits, and the message was consistent: Legislation is needed. In 2015, the House passed a drought bill; in May, Sen. Feinstein's legislation received a Senate hearing.

We hope the Senate will pass a bill so the House and Senate bills can go to conference, where final legislation can be drafted and approved. Our members of Congress made it clear: Drought legislation is their No. 1 priority.

More than half of the Farm Bureau group had never been to D.C., including the two of us. The CFBF staff did an excellent job arranging the schedule, and also including tours to provide a behind-the-scenes perspective on how our nation's capital runs. Rep. Doug LaMalfa deserves a special thank you for giving us a tour of the Capitol building that very few people will ever see. The group was able to tour the Library of Congress, meet with the Congressional Research Service and participate in a Monument Walking Tour led by CFBF First Vice President Jamie Johansson.

Living across the country from the capital city where so many decisions that affect our livelihood are made is sometimes frustrating, but after this trip, it is clear we have staff at CFBF who work tirelessly to make sure California farmers and ranchers are well represented at the federal level. One of the best experiences was meeting California farmers who represent us in Congress.

If you haven't done so in the past, we encourage you to participate in a Farm Bureau advocacy trip to Washington—it kindles the passion our founding fathers had for agriculture when they established our country.

(Mindy DeRohan manages CAPCA ED for the California Association of Pest Control Advisers in Sacramento. Johnnie White is a Napa County farmer and first vice chair of the Young Farmers and Ranchers State Committee. Both are members of the Leadership Farm Bureau Class of 2016.)

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