Montana Farm Bureau President Cyndi Johnson and MFBF Senior Director of Governmental Affairs Nicole Rolf spent last week in Washington, D.C. attending the American Farm Bureau Council of Presidents and 2023 Public Policy Conference with the farm bill, ag labor and public lands issues at the top of the list for discussion.

Farm Bureau is working diligently to see a new farm bill passed before the current one expires on September 30, 2023. “The feedback we received from the House Agriculture Committee staff is that Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) wants to have text available by September. When the language is available, we can really push for hard commitments from Congress,” said Rolf. “We’re feeling really positive.”

During the Public Policy Conference, Environmental Protection Agency staff, British Agricultural Attaché Will Surman and Department of Labor’s Brian Pasternak addressed critical issues and answered questions from attendees. 

“The EPA gave an update on pesticide regulations, and Mr. Surman said Britain wants to engage in trade, but at this point, there is no Free Trade Agreement solidly in the works with the United States,” said Rolf. “However, they are especially interested in agricultural technology. Deputy Director Pasternak talked about the increased demand his department is seeing for workers, and explained the process they need to go through to implement the law.”

Johnson and Rolf met with all of Montana’s Congressional offices. First meeting with Congressman Matt Rosendale (R-MT) where they talked about the farm bill, MFBF’s support for the Ft. Belknap Indian Community (FBIC) Water Compact Settlement Act and the Ending American Trade Suppression (EATS) Act.

“The EATS Act is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Prop 12. Prop 12 lets a state dictate agricultural practices in other states. The EATS Act will protect pre-harvest production practices and strengthen interstate commerce,” said Rolf.

Rolf added that they were thrilled to hand deliver letters of support to our Montana delegation for the FBIC Water Compact Settlement Act, of which both Montana senators are sponsors. 

“We want to see the compacts get settled so we can move through final water adjudication, and this compact will avoid costly litigation if this can’t be settled,” said Rolf. “It will provide $300 million in funding for the Saint Mary’s Canal repair and the Milk River Project which irrigates more than 100,000 acres along the Hi-Line.”

Western states presidents and national affairs directors met with Nata Wolff Culver, deputy director of policy and program for the Bureau of Land Management to discuss public lands issues.

The group talked to Culver about the proposed Public Lands Rule. “She disagrees with our assessment of the rule, and said she hoped we commented, which most of the western states Farm Bureaus including Montana and the American Farm Bureau did, so at least they’ll have a lot to review from a rancher’s perspective on that proposed rule.”

“When President Johnson asked for an update on the proposed grazing rule that we met with them a year ago about, Deputy Culver indicated that although they had been working on a new grazing plan, they are pushing pause and gathering some more information from their collaborators. She said they will make positive changes through policies and guidelines. From a process point of view, this is unfortunate as changing policy does not require them to take public comment,” said Rolf. “We are disappointed in that decision because if they are going to make any changes to anything as important as the grazing rule, they need to have comment from the allotment users. We hope they will engage with us because we stand ready to provide ample feedback and local perspective.”

The group informed Culver about the ongoing grasshopper infestation and controlling the pests on public and private land. “We are hoping we can get resolution on that for next year since it’s too late to implement effective controls on for them at this point,” said Rolf.

During the Council of Presidents meeting, state leaders received updates from the American Farm Bureau National Affairs staff. 

“Not only did we hear about the 2023 Farm Bill, which they feel we should have by the end of the year, but we had trade updates and updates on what is currently happening with the Waters of the U.S. rule,” said Johnson. 

“After visiting with all of our Montana Congressional offices—we were able to talk about all of the big agricultural issues with Representative Rosendale and Senator Daines personally, the staff in Senator Tester and Representative Ryan Zinke’s office—I feel we are really blessed in Montana that our delegation takes a keen interest in what Montana Farm Bureau has to say,” Johnson said.

“The Council of Presidents is a great time to discuss the challenges state Farm Bureaus face, including growing membership, being frustrated with regulatory interference, and issues that impact agriculture across the country,” said Johnson. “This meeting is an excellent way to reconnect with your peers.”

During the week, there was a reception for the Farm Bureau leaders in the Longworth Office Building with members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees and their professional staff, which provided a beneficial way to interact with members of the committee and talk about priorities.

“We appreciate that the American Farm Bureau provided this opportunity to the states to meet with these leaders,” said Rolf. “It shows that Farm Bureau is leading the way on the 2023 Farm Bill.”