February 5, 2010

Leadership program wraps up; Farmers' voice needed in Washington

A packed schedule on the trip to Washington, D.C. for the NeCGA Leadership Educational Program, resulted in my inability to update the blog daily. Yet, I can share with you now the wrap-up report of our exciting trip!

You read about our first couple of days in D.C., described by Brandon Hunnicutt (@cornfedfarmer), President of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, in an earlier post.

As we awoke to around three inches of snow on Wednesday morning, we soon discovered how disabling snow and winter weather is to the D.C. area. All area schools had been cancelled, many offices closed and hardly anyone attemped their own transportation on the streets. This really tickled our Nebraska farmers, who think three inches of snow is a walk in the park compared to the winter we have experienced in the Cornhusker State.

Nevertheless, we were lucky that the United State Department of Agriculture (@USDA_NASS) staff braved the elements and made it in to conduct a mock lock-down for our group. This mock lock-down allowed the group to walk through the procedures that the National Agricultural Statistic Service, a division of the USDA, typically conduct when they provide crop marketing reports, such as the Prospective Plantings Report and Crop Production Reports, to name a couple. All participants in a lock-down must give their phones, computers, pagers, and anything they use to communicate with the outside world, to an armed guard. These people must remain in the locked area until the report is complete – sometimes up to eight hours. The information that is released is important to keep undisclosed to prevent anyone from obtaining knowledge that could affect commodity market prices.

The group then had lunch with the U.S. Grains Council (@USGC), an organization developing export markets for U.S. barley, corn, grain sorghum and related products. USGC staff presented key strategies and priorities for expanding the corn market worldwide, as well as international biotech policies and attitudes of biotech crops. The group then split-up and attended meetings with Syngenta, the North American Millers Association and Growth Energy.

In between these business meetings, we were able to meet with Senator Mike Johanns and Congressman Adrian Smith. Both of these interactions allowed our group to thank Senator Johanns and Congressman Smith for their continued support of agriculture, as well as expressing concerns for the future, such as legislation including greenhouse gas regulations, indirect land use change, and ethanol expansion.

The day was concluded only after a generous seafood-buffet dinner at Phillip’s Flagship, and a walking tour of the monuments by night by part of the group. (I wore my pedometer and can verify that we walked about 8 miles just on this tour! Thanks Carl for the exercise!)

Thursday started out with sunshine and allowed our group to meet with The Fertilizer Institute and American Farmland Trust groups. The group again went in three different directions for legislative visits with Congressman Lee Terry, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry ad Senator Ben Nelson. Again, we were able to thank them for their support of agriculture, as well as concerns for the future.

The business portion of our trip ended with lunch at the Capitol Hill Club and a presentation from the National Pork Producers Council. The fearless leaders of our group gave us a debriefing which allowed time to share the highlights of the trip and what Nebraska producers can take home from this important visit.

Besides business, we had the chance to take a brief walk-through between meetings at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the Library of Congress, and a tour of the Capitol along with tickets to the House and Senate Galleries. We even walked into the chance at seeing the new Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts being sworn into Senate, along with appearances by Vice President Biden, and Senators Kerry and McCain.

As Brandon mentioned in the previous blog post in reference to the purpose of the trip, “It is the beginning stages to rising up more agvocates.” I can truly agree with him, as this trip allowed for the farmer leaders, as well as myself, to see the bigger picture in which our ag industry is formed. Legislation is created and laws are formed on foundations in which the legislators share their views and vote. If we [farmers, ranchers, agriculturists] do not share our beliefs and concerns for the ag industry with legislators, then how are they to know what is really best for us? This is our chance to go agvocate and share how proposed bills will affect not only our industry, but our lives personally which are invested in agriculture.

*Pictures taken by Kelsey Pope

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