The American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee D.C. Fly-In March 19-22 provided an excellent opportunity for members to learn about working with elected officials. They also had the opportunity to put the training into practice during Capitol Hill visits. Of the sixty-five WLC members from across the country who participated in the event, Montana had three WLC representatives including WLC Chair Gretchen Schubert, Beth Blevins and Carla Lawrence. Lillian Ostendorf, from Powderville, Montana who serves as the Western Representative on the AFBF WLC, also attended the activities.  The group attended Ag Day festivities March 20, which included a Taste of Ag reception at the Library of Congress. 

Advocacy training held Wednesday morning at the American Farm Bureau headquarters, included Foundation Outreach training followed by extensive information on meeting with your Congressmen.  

“It was impressive to learn all of the outreach programs the AFB Foundation offers and many are free,” noted Carla Lawrence, a rancher from Boyd. “One of the popular educational materials is My American Farm which is a teaching tool for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade and has a broader reach beyond those grades. It includes over 24 games and 150 activities and lesson plans that carry a message that Ag is everywhere, farmers feed the world and are good stewards of the land. Another program called the Purple Plow challenge individuals, groups and classes in grades 5 -8 to enter the competition. Each year a new challenge is presented and allows contestants to team together and brainstorm sustainable local food systems that could be implemented in their communities.” 

Advocacy 101 training covered how to get the most impact from Hill Visits including making sure you’re a regular voter, visit only with elected officials of whom you are constituents, and always be professional. Other tips included making issues relevant and asking how you can help. 

Ronan veterinarian Beth Blevins said the training explained how to tell a story  to show how certain legislation would actually affect your ranch. “For instance, I talked about how detrimental the new rules for the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) is. I’m a rancher, I raise my cattle and now they passed a regulation where the truck that is hauling my cattle has to stop because of the hours on the road.  My cattle had to be unloaded and co-mingled with cattle that weren’t as healthy and they got sick. Being loaded on and off trucks is hard on cattle; besides my cattle are generally at pasture and might not know they need to drink out of the waterer in the corral where they are unloaded. This shows why we need those exemptions for agriculture in the ELD rules.” 

“The AFBF staff recommended that a constituent visiting has much more impact than letters or emails.  Certainly, any contact you can make is good, but making the personal contact is so much better,” Blevins added.

Schubert said the Hill visits went well, even with snow in the Nation’s Capital. “We met with staff in Senator Tester and Senator Daines’ office, and they were extremely interested in our concerns,” said Schubert. “Congressman Gianforte was able to meet with us, but was then called out for a vote. He joined us later and gave us an evening tour of the Capitol. Not only was it amazing, but in the middle of it, at 9 p.m. at night, the House members were called in for a vote. It was exciting to see all of the Congressmen showing up, and all of the security checking the cars. I think sometimes we don’t realize how much, and the hours, Congressmen work. I feel fortunate to live in a state where our elected officials are always willing to meet with us.”