At Land O’Lakes we see advocacy in action ranging from farm tours and fair booths to conferences in the Washington, D.C. In June, Land O’Lakes played host to a number of member-owners who made the trip to the nation’s Capital for the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) Young Producers Conference and the National Council of Farmers Cooperatives (NCFC) Washington Conference.
Agriculturists from across the nation attended the conferences to learn about current ag issues being considered and advocate for our industry with members of Congress. In total, Land O’Lakes members visited the offices of 25 different congressmen and women.
NCFC emerging leaders, Austin and Kendall Heiniger are members of Land O’Lakes member co-op Ag Partners Cooperative in Hiawatha, Kansas. For the couple, meeting with Kansas representatives and senators meant the chance to share their farming experiences and hardships. Austin worked in a manufacturing plant before deciding to move back to his family farm. Not long into the operation, their wheat crop failed.
This story drove home to senators and representatives the reality of farming in an ever-changing climate and the impact one storm, or lack-there-of, can have on crops.
“For me, I shared a lot about the importance of crop insurance and how I learned about crop insurance firsthand the very first week we moved to the farm,” says Kendall. “Austin moved me home to the farm, it was a huge transition and the first thing he tells me while I’m unpacking boxes is ‘We just found out our wheat crop is ruined.’ And I asked how we would pay the bills and how we could survive this. That’s when I learned about crop insurance and how important it is to have affordable coverage.”
In addition to crop insurance, NCFC and NMPF attendees spoke with members of the Senate and House about a variety of topics including:
Trade Policy: Exploring new opportunities and strengthening current agreements, especially in the dairy industry with Canada
Immigration Reform: Creating a framework for temporary and long-term farm laborers
Rural infrastructure: Updating waterways, highways, harbors and port facilities. There is a current backlog of 25 critical waterway projects needed to bring systems into 21st century
2018 Farm Bill: Advocating for policies that help producers manage the volatility inherent in agricultural production. Also, discussed topics including nutrition, food labeling and real seal and the food safety modernization act
Austin focused on rural infrastructure and the growing importance of rural broadband. With new technology, such as R7® Tool by WinField, the Heinigers know agriculture is headed in the direction of big data and connected farms around the world. Austin also spoke of the more traditional infrastructure needs including roads, highways and waterways.
During the conference, experts provided summaries of the 2018 Farm Bill, nutrition, rural development and more. This, along with background information provided by Land O’Lakes, helped the Heinigers prepare to have informed discussions with legislators.
As the Heinigers continued to speak with different members of congress, they were surprised how down to earth the legislatorswere and how informed some were on agriculture issues.
“Any of the points we brought up, they were well informed about,” says Austin. “They were well in-line with what agriculture and the cooperative system needs.”
Beyond the policy discussions, these congressional office visits serve as a great opportunity for the senators and representatives to meet constituents and create valuable contacts with members of the ag community. Land O’Lakes strives to be on the forefront of helping provide opportunities for members to meet with government officials.
“I wasn’t even sure we would make any sort of a difference, my expectation was to just not sit in fear,” says Kendall. “They were active listeners and demonstrated knowledge I wasn’t sure they would have. My hope is that, in the future, they will remember us and if they have questions or want to see a farm, we would love to be that contact in the future.”
Land O’Lakes appreciates the time it takes for members to step away from their businesses for visits to the Hill. It takes a team of Land O’Lakes employees, executive leaders and industry partners to make sure these visits are productive and help strengthen relationships with policymakers.
“It was time well spent away from the farm and time away from the farm is at a premium,” says Austin. “We are very busy, like all producers are. But there was value added on both sides and it was the right thing to do for our industry.”