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All things Agriculture

Farmers Tell Story on Capitol Hill

Sharing key talking points with legislators can make or break ag policies.

I recently returned from the American Soybean Association (ASA) director meetings in Washington D.C. I am fortunate to be an ASA director representing the Iowa Soybean Association, and also serve as a vice president of ASA.  I wanted to share what it's like when farmers go to Capitol Hill to talk with legislators about important farm policies.

The July ASA meetings last an extra day to allow for a great educational opportunity called the Legislative Forum. This year it included Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Under Secretary Jim Miller from the Foreign Agriculture Service, Kathleen Merrigan, USDA Deputy Undersecretary, and Charlie Arnot from the Center for Food Integrity. Our Keynote speaker was Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., who served as Agriculture Secretary in the Bush Administration.

This Forum allows us to hear a variety of speakers who share their views on the current events and issues concerning agriculture. It also allows those in attendance to ask questions and comment to the speakers. It's a wonderful opportunity for all involved.

Talking points We spend time prepping for visits to our legislators. This preparation includes talking points on policy issues developed at the annual meeting of the ASA members at Commodity Classic. The top legislative priorities for ASA are Retroactive extension of the Biodiesel tax Incentive, Trade Expansion, FY 2011 Appropriations for Agriculture Food, Research and Conservation, and the 2012 Farm Bill…along with many other important issues too numerous to mention.

The next morning we break up in our state groups. Usually over breakfast our state group reviews ASA priorities to put together a plan for the day of lobbying. It is more beneficial for legislators to hear from constituents from their district, so we plan accordingly when we divide responsibilities for our meetings with legislators and or their staff. These meetings are usually set up in advance by our state association staff to ensure we get to meet with legislators.

When the planning session is over we either walk or take a cab the few blocks to the office buildings. In the heat of summer it is usually better to share a cab ride—you get pretty hot wearing a suit even though it's a short walk. The multiple appointments usually start about 9 or 10 a.m. and continue until 3 or 4 p.m.

Typically our state staff person has set up a meeting with a legislator and one or two key legislative staff in the legislator's office. The legislators and their staff know us and we have a very pleasant-flowing conversation about what is going on in our state, and how the issues and priorities we are addressing affect us personally. 

I remember how impressed I was the first time I lobbied in D.C. The meetings seemed very casual but also covered all the priority issues and points we wanted to share with legislators.

I'm very thankful to be able to do these things on behalf of soybean farmers. It's one of the many opportunities and benefits that go with membership in ASA. When we see that our talking points and ideas are used in legislation or rule making in departments, it's a great feeling that one can help make a difference for our families and fellow farmers.

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