Fourteen Wisconsin Farmers Union members joined more than 200 farmers and ranchers from across the country in Washington, D.C., last week for National Farmers Union's annual fall legislative fly-in, held from Sept. 17-19. The group urged congressional members to support NFU's 2007 Farm Bill priorities, increase the use and production of fuels from the farm and support fair, profitable trade agreements.
"We had another strong group of participants from Wisconsin this year," says WFU President Sue Beitlich. "It's always an honor to lead our passionate, well-informed teams as they share their experiences and needs with legislators in our nation's capital."
The group met with every Wisconsin legislative office, as well as several others from Georgia, Virginia, Illinois, Alabama, Tennessee, Washington and South Carolina. Highlights included the entire WFU group meeting in person with Wisconsin Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold and Wisconsin Congressmen Dave Obey and Steve Kagen.
During their meetings, the teams urged the Senate to build upon the farm bill passed by the House of Representatives this summer while supporting other NFU priority issues, such as funding for a permanent disaster program; a counter-cyclical safety net, indexed to the cost of production; a comprehensive energy title; adequate conservation funding; a strong nutrition title; a competition title that reduces concentration and enhances competition in agriculture markets; a means to implement country of origin labeling; and a strong safety net for dairy producers.
"We know the House farm bill passed this summer isn't perfect, but it is a great starting point," says Beitlich. "Now it's up to the Senate to build upon the House version and develop legislation that works as well as possible for our hard-working family farmers."
Participants also urged members of Congress to support increasing the use and production of fuels from the farm by expanding the Renewable Fuels Standard, supporting a Renewable Electricity Standard, extending and creating production tax credits for community-based renewable energy projects and expanding biofuels distribution systems.
Jacob Greshik of Cochrane, a student preparing for leadership in FFA, was one of the WFU members who walked the halls of Congress this week. "I've learned so much being here in DC," he says. "Having this opportunity at an early age is a really great experience. I'm learning more about the legislative process, talking to key decision-makers and finding out why and how their decisions are made."
"It's been exciting to meet all the Congressmen, Congresswomen and Senators," says Jill Hemmersbach, 19, a student at UW-La Crosse. "All the issues we talked about are so important. We need to make people aware of what's going on and convince them to help support this vital legislation rather than look the other way and not do anything."
The Wisconsin farmers also lobbied for fair, profitable trade agreements that level the international playing field by addressing all factors of trade, including environmental, health and labor standards and currency manipulation.
Summing up the fly-in experience, John Hemmersbach of Cashton, Jill's father, says, "If you think your commitment to something isn't worth it, you're wrong. If you have a cause, you can change things. Your voice matters, and you must make it heard."