Top Talk

July 31, 2009 03:24 PM

Top Talk
The voices and faces of those who speak for agriculture in Washington

> Agriculture Is Under Attack

We have a problem explaining, not only to our colleagues here, but to the urban part of the country, what we're doing. It's somewhat manifested in the climate change bill and the energy bill, where you have the Humane Society and these outside groups thinking they know better how we should do things. And they think they should tell us how to farm because they have a politically correct idea of how to do it.

We are under attack on a lot of different quarters: ethanol, animal agriculture, big farmers, you name it. Just about every fight I'm fighting for agriculture is outside of my jurisdiction. It's hard for me to get at this stuff. I think we can fight a rearguard action and keep bad things from happening, but it's going to be messy. The farm bill is in place, thank God; I think we're going to be able to maintain that.

> Defense Starts at Home

Agriculture is still paid attention to in Washington. Given the number of producers we have in this country versus the overall population, we have—and I've always felt this—a disproportionate amount of influence.

Part of it is image and perception. Producers are thought highly of by the general population and, by extension, members of Congress. It's also due to the degree our rural grassroots members are active in developing relationships with members of Congress. That's why the Blue Dog Democrats are so key to us, particularly. Those are rural members to a great extent and they have a lot of connections to ag producers.

Public perception is a key influencer, but the degree to which farmers and ranchers are willing to engage their elected representatives also helps agriculture's cause.

> More Understanding Needed

This is 17 square miles of logic-free environment. The majority of people have no clue of what agriculture is about and where their food comes from. We like to use that old cliché that people don't realize food doesn't come from the grocery store. Unfortunately, out here that's more true than you'd like to believe.

[He uses the climate bill debate over EPA's jurisdiction to illustrate.] If we don't take care of the environment, then we don't do a good job of farming and we don't do a very good job of running our businesses.

It's a situation where they don't compromise, they don't find common ground. It's all or nothing. Too many folks out there don't realize the consequences. If we strap agriculture as much as it is, and we increase those costs for farmers, that's going to hurt food production. Too many people take agriculture for granted.

> Ag Transcends Party Lines

As the years go by, we have fewer and fewer farmers and more and more people in this country. The math is pretty straightforward. No matter how far you go into the future, it's always going to go that way.

I think one thing in our favor is the agriculture committees, in both houses, have long had a tradition of being pretty bipartisan. It's less confrontational in the ag committees than it is in a lot of the other committees between the parties, and that's helpful. For evidence of that, just look at the last farm bill. It was passed overwhelmingly in both houses…it wasn't even close in terms of overriding two presidential vetoes.

So, that tells you that the bipartisan approach they take on the ag committees is pretty important. It's useful; it's helpful in terms of getting stuff passed.

Top Producer, Summer 2009

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