The Montana Farm Bureau Federation Advocacy and Action Incentive Program is all about recognizing individual members who become engaged at a different level in Agriculture, as an advocate, a leader, a policy hawk, or a champion for an issue.  This summer, three of us, Wes Jenson, Rhonda Hergenrider, and I were honored to join our National Affairs Director, Nicole Rolf, for a Washington, D.C. fly-in to engage with our national leaders and agencies about agriculture issues important to Montana.  Nicole prepared us very well with up to date information about the differences in the Senate and House’s versions of the Farm Bill, current information about trade negotiations status, and tips to prepare for Congressional visits.  She also took care of travel arrangements and made sure we had any documentation we needed to pass through the many security checkpoints that exist in our nation’s capital.

Our first day in D.C. (which involved travel from Montana) included a pre-arranged guided Capitol Tour, compliments of Congressman Gianforte’s staff.  I’ve toured the Capitol before but it’s always fun to have an experienced guide lead and even more enjoyable to tour with peers who’ve never been.  It’s like a whole new experience when you get to share in another’s excitement!

Second day in D.C. began very early with a White House tour – something I’ve never done in my several visits to Washington.  The White House is definitely an impressive structure; we got to wander through the Red Room, Blue Room, Green Room…you get the idea.  We were also trying hard to absorb the incredible history and fathom the really important people who walked those halls before us.  We even got to watch as the Presidential helicopter left the back yard…

Following the White House tour, we were on to the work of the day. Our first stop was at Senator Daines office where we got to spend some quality time with the Senator and his Ag Legislative Assistant, Dan Gerig.  We had the chance to discuss our concerns regarding tariffs, fire prevention and control, potential changes in trade agreements and unfair trade practices for agriculture, the Farm Bill, the Endangered Species Act and the need for revision, elimination of Wilderness Study areas and many other issues.

After our first Senate visit, we grabbed a quick lunch and headed to the American Farm Bureau Federation offices for an issue briefing covering western lands issues, the farm bill, biotech labeling of foods, ag trade, and hours of operation for those required to use Electronic Logging Devices in trucking.

During the briefing, we were honored with a “brief” visit from our own President Hans McPherson who was in town for an AFBF Board meeting and I got locked in the stairway, but that’s a story for another day.

The AFBF briefing was followed by an amazing opportunity to meet with front-line staff of the USDA Foreign Ag Service at the USDA building. It only took a moment or two for all of us in the room to realize we were on the same team and we were able to ask questions and got good answers to our concerns. The Foreign Ag Service is serving American Agriculture from 90 offices overseas, covering 170 countries world-wide.  They are not only involved in discussing and negotiating the best possible scenarios for American Ag Trade, they help with market assistance and negotiation, trade promotion, market intelligence and analysis for new market opportunities and they assist with the international development of agriculture in remote locations.  They are on the “front line” in regard to the current trade environment with China and the European Union.

The Foreign Ag Service visit was very satisfying in that we came away with a sense of calm about the trade issues we hear about day after day.   Negotiations are in good hands and USDA really is looking out for the best interests of American Agriculture.

What could possibly top that?  Nicole had a grand surprise for us as she led us to the POV lounge with a rooftop view of many of the iconic sites of Washington, D.C. and a great end of the day atmosphere.

The third day in Washington began with the Montana Coffee where we met our Congressional delegation and many more folks from Montana who were taking in the sites and visiting the halls of Congress.  After coffee, and pictures of course, we had an appointment with Senator Tester and his Legislative Director, Dylan Laslovich.  Senator Tester is working hard for Montana Ag regarding the hours of service issue for the ag trucking industry and was, on that day, hoping for word on a possible hearing about the issue.  He also assured us he would try to assist with filling some of the professional vacancies that existed in the Sidney, MT research facility.

After the meeting with the Senator, Nicole squeezed in a Facebook appearance by all of us.  Our Facebook debut was quickly followed by a dash through one of the many Libraries of Congress buildings and a brief meeting with Congressman Greg Gianforte. Our little group once again shared our concern about trade issues, hours of service and ELDs, the need to reform the Endangered Species Act, and our desire to see a Farm Bill pass before the expiration date. We also took the opportunity to thank the Congressman for his efforts to try to help eliminate the unnecessary Wilderness Study Areas that do not fit the criteria of a wilderness.

Then we got to change to traveling clothes and go home…..whew!

MFBF’s Advocacy and Action Incentive program is such a great opportunity to participate in a whole new level of advocacy.  Visiting our nation’s capital and meeting the Congressional delegation in person to talk about things which are most important to Montana agriculture is an amazing reward for simply being an advocate at the local level and choosing to be involved enough to make sure the correct story of agriculture is the one being told.  Dust off your pencils and write a letter to the editor, support an ag-friendly politician, or stand up at a public meeting and be heard.  Montana Farm Bureau Federation is all about advocacy and there are many of you, individual members, who already advocate.

Fill out an application to be considered for the Advocacy and Action Incentive Program.  It’s worth your time!