Help Wanted in D.C.

January 27, 2014 03:51 AM
Help Wanted in D.C.

You’re being called to help influence key issues

As the National Farmers Union’s Chandler Goule joked at the recent Farm Journal Forum, the farm  bill that was still languishing at press time has passed seven times between the two chambers, including the Senate and House Ag Committees. However, the vice president of government relations says there is nothing funny about the painful journey that has wagged around lawmakers and our industry for two solid years.  The protracted debate has taken on a life of its own, making one point crystal clear: agriculture desperately needs the voices of individual farmers in Washington, D.C.

"Ag needs friends in Washington, and this whole experience has proven that we need farmers’ voices in D.C. to get things done," said Mary Kay Thatcher, director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, adding that farmers can’t just rely on organizations and commodity groups to represent them. Going that route has failed, the policy veteran shared. It’s certainly not for a lack of trying.

Thatcher, Goule and hundreds of other seasoned D.C. insiders and lawmakers have devoted millions of hours to advancing the farm bill. Startl­ingly missing in the process were the voices of individual farmers and ranchers.

At the recent annual Farm Bureau convention, Secretary Tom Vilsack characterized the farm bill as "long overdue" as he encouraged farmers to reach out to their own members of Congress and let them personally know that passage of the bill is important to our nation, not just to farmers.
Further, with most Americans far removed from where their food comes from, "Educating friends about what farming is and what it does is important," Vilsack said.

The fact that agriculture is a driving force of the overall economy, accounting for 5% of the U.S. gross domestic product and employing 16 million Americans, is something many people might not realize, he explained.

Those working within the Beltway are very aware that a lack of under­stand­ing fuels disconnect, particularly in today’s partisan, highly charged envir­onment. At the same time, those who are working against agriculture blanket lawmakers with personal outreach and passionate opinions. Farmers need to do the same.  

Agriculture’s Top Victories and Challenges

We asked Farm Journal legal columnist John Dillard and Gary Baise, his colleague at Olson Frank Weeda Terman Matz Law Firm, for this quick scorecard that assumes that the farm bill will get nailed down.

Biggest Victories in 2013

  • Washington State refuses to require labeling on GMO products.
  • In Bowman v. Monsanto, the Supreme Court held that biotech patents apply to the progeny of patented plants. This decision means we will continue to see increased investment in biotech traits.
  • In Alt v. EPA, the court decided that storm water runoff from a Concentrated Animal Feeding operation’s farmyard is not a discharge.

Biggest Challenges in 2014

  • If the appeal of Gulf Restoration Network v. EPA is lost, EPA will likely begin to implement numeric nutrient limitations, which would mean more strict controls on fertilizers and field runoff.
  • Finalizing the Renewable Fuels Standard will be a struggle, since EPA proposed to lower the corn ethanol mandate.
  • GMO labeling laws and anti-GMO actions, such as those in Hawaii, will continue to bedevil production agriculture.


Speak Up, Speak Out

Your voice is the one that matters—not those of lobbyists or associations. What matters is the level-headed perspective of a producer who understands the complexities of Mother Nature, symbiotic relationships between technology and the environment, and how all three are key to putting food in the mouths of everyone on the planet. Those with no connection to agriculture are poised to listen. We, as farmers, must answer the call.

To find resources and links to help make your voice heard, visit

You can e-mail Charlene Finck at

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