Visiting with elected officials and meeting with agency personnel is a critical part of advocacy. When three Montana Farm Bureau members earned a trip back to the nation’s capital as part of the Advocacy and Action Incentive Program, they had an excellent opportunity not only to tour the Capitol and the White House, but to meet with their state’s Congressmen, visit with the major decision makers at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and glean critical information from American Farm Bureau’s public policy team.
This was the first time Rhonda Hergenrider had visited D.C. “Advocacy about agriculture is a passion of mine, especially being involved with sugar beets where there is so much misinformation,” the sugar beet farmer said. “We met with all three of our Congressmen—Senator Tester, Senator Daines and Representative Gianforte—and they were all very interested in what we had to say. I talked to them about some of the sugar issues. They hear about issues affecting agriculture from other politicians, but it is essential for them to hear firsthand from agricultural producers. It was a real honor to meet with them.”
Hergenrider, who serves as the Carbon/Stillwater County Farm Bureau President, thanked the USDA for their efforts. “We talked about the work they are doing on trade issues. We let them know that farmers are hurting, but we don’t want a subsidy, we want access to markets. To be in the room with people of that caliber who want to hear from us was very rewarding.”
Not only was international trade on everyone’s mind, so was the farm bill. “Farm Bureau really wants to see a farm bill passed, and both versions have their strong points. Everyone we talked to is hopeful one will pass by September,” Hergenrider noted.
MFBF Vice President Cyndi Johnson talked about the visit with the USDA Foreign Ag Service. “We discussed trade and how we feel about the recent trade barriers and tariffs. We did not get to see the USDA under-secretary but met with the people on the front lines doing the hard work to make sure ag is finally going to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the trade wars,” said the small grains farmer from Conrad. “They are concerned and want to hear from people growing food and fiber. It was comforting to meet those people who are doing the work of settling the trade issues.”
Johnson praised the opportunity to apply for the Fly-In. “It’s fun to advocate for agriculture, but to be rewarded for that effort with this trip to have producers experience this firsthand produces even better advocates. You’ll find that the average person in D.C. wants to hear about agriculture. Remember, the world is run by the people who show up.”
Rancher Wes Jensen echoed that talking to Congressmen and others “inside the Beltway” is extremely valuable. “A person can get discouraged thinking that your vote doesn’t count, but that’s not true. Your Congressmen need encouragement. They gather information from you and from others, so it’s important to provide them with the truth. Often, they receive outside information that is not even close to being real. It’s important they meet you and they will remember you.”
Jensen, who serves as District 6 Director, MFBF, said being on this trip to D.C. was very educational. “You learn how the process works and you understand your elected officials need encouragement to keep fighting on those issues that affect you. It’s important, as well, that they see new faces from Farm Bureau, so get involved.”
Following the White House and Capitol Tours, as well as attending the Montana Coffee Wednesday morning and seeing the House and Senate Buildings, Hergenrider had nothing but praise for the advocacy trip, as well as her first trip to Washington, D.C. “If you’re not proud to be an American before you see our nation’s capital, you certainly will be once you see it.”