Washington, D.C., is not my idea of an ideal trip when the destination means back-to-back meetings with senators, representatives and their staffs. Still, in today’s world, it is a necessary function. Traditional agriculture must always stand ready to provide what we see as common- sense input to policy makers.
The legislative committee for MFA’s corporate board of directors graciously takes the time each year to make this trip. I appreciate their company and their dedication, especially this year when the meeting was held in late June and planting windows had been so short, and in some cases, planting remained incomplete.
Those MFA board members on the legislative committee attending this year and representing your interests were Don Mills, chairman, District 11, El Dorado Springs, Mo.; John Moffitt, vice chairman, District 3, Winigan, Mo.; Tom Dent, District 2, Humeston, Iowa; Davin Althoff, District 9, California, Mo.; Barry Kagay, District 1, Amity, Mo.; and Glen Cope, District 12, Aurora, Mo. MFA’s board represents a cross-section of Midwest agriculture.
Our trip coincided with a conference held by the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. The conference brought together nearly 150 board members and executives of U.S. cooperatives.
During the NCFC conference, we heard presentations from subcommittees on animal agriculture, international affairs, food and nutrition, labor and infrastructure, and government affairs. NCFC outlined its 2015 priorities which include support for Capper-Volstead (the antitrust protection for farmer cooperatives), tax issues for agriculture, Farm Credit, USDA, modernization of transportation infrastructure, a national energy strategy and nutrition policy among other items.
Many, if not most, of those attending NCFC’s meeting also schedule time to interact with elected officials. I can assure you agriculture is well-represented in Senate and House buildings.
That is the most positive aspect of the trip. MFA’s board of directors is entirely made up of actual farmers and ranchers. During the meetings with elected officials, these farmers and ranchers effectively communicate concerns experienced by those who work the land daily as well as those of us responsible for managing the cooperative.
From these board members and cooperative executives, key policymakers get to hear perspectives that are too often far removed from life in Washington. Of course, many of these elected officials spend considerable time in the areas they represent, and they represent us well. They know the issues and we convey our appreciation.
MFA’s board members are familiar with crop and livestock outlooks in today’s marketplace. They have firsthand experience with this season’s farm income statistics. They know what’s happening with working capital, projected revenue and financing. They have personal knowledge of cropland values, pasture values and lending conditions affected by this year’s unusually wet planting season.
Although the full planting season statistics weren’t assembled at the time of our meeting in late June, each and every board member knew that plantings of both soybeans and corn were far behind seasonal averages. The row-crop board members were well aware that mid- to late-June soybean planting would decrease yields by nearly 30 percent. And they knew just how much soybean ground on their own farms remained to be planted.
What we try to accomplish in these meetings with elected officials is first to thank those who do represent us well. Just as important, though, we try to meet with and express our concerns to those who don’t share our views. We want them to know we are responsible stewards of the land and individuals with real concerns about modern legislation, regulation and marketplace conditions. Those in opposition need to hear first-hand how their actions or inactions affect agriculture and rural life.
Some of the best conversations come from meetings with those who don’t vote the way we’d like. It gives us an opportunity to explain what we do, why we do it, and the products and practices we use.
MFA is not a political organization. That said, we are not indifferent to what goes on in the nation’s capital. It is in all of our customers’ interests that we express our concerns to these senators and representatives.
We had a lot to talk about: crop and livestock conditions, estate taxes, biotechnology, EPA’s Waters of the United States regulations, EPA’s assault on coal-powered electricity, the federal deficit, regulations in general, food labeling, and the importance of balancing a budget, whether on the farm, in the business or in government.
In short, it was a productive trip. And I want to personally thank each of the board members for their personal efforts in representing MFA and the MFA members in their areas. I hope you will as well