Washington -- Montana Farm Bureau members spent an intensive two days in Washington, D.C meeting with their congressmen, visiting with pertinent Congressional committees and learning about advocacy as part of the American Farm Bureau Federation Advocacy Fly-In June 13-14, 2023. MFBF members included Gina Stevens from Hardin, Jess Bandel from Floweree, Eric Moore from Miles City and Chris Kolstad from Ledger, led by MFBF Senior Director of Governmental Relations Nicole Rolf.

The MFBF group joined more than 150 farmers and ranchers from across the country who traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet directly with lawmakers and discuss priorities for the 2023 farm bill. The Fly-In included remarks from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Penn.), Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member John Boozman (R-Ark.) and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member David Scott (D-Ga.).

Tuesday morning Fly-In attendees received advocacy briefings from AFBF staff followed by the comments from the committee chairs and visited the Congressional offices of Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Senator Steve Daines R-MT). The next day, the Montanans discussed farm bill and natural resources-related issues with Representative Matt Rosendale (R-MT) and Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT). Congressional office visits included in-depth conversations regarding the farm bill focusing on the Title 1 Commodity Program, crop insurance, and a working lands focus for conservation.

The meeting with House Natural Resource Committee staff and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee staff drilled down into a discussion on western issues including the Bureau of Land Management’s “Conservation as a Multiple Use” Rule, the upcoming Grazing Rule, BLM’s Sage Grouse Land Use Plan, Department of Interior’s CMR Bison reintroduction plans and forestry issues.

“The committee staff and our Congressional delegation seemed truly interested in what we had to say because it was coming from us, farmers and ranchers,” said Stevens. “Our main focus was the 2024 Farm Bill and the BLM conservation multiple use rule. There was agreement in the committees we visited with that farm bill spending should, at the very least, stay the same as in the last farm bill. The Republicans agreed with us that the conservation as multiple use rule needs revision.”

“Our concerns about the H2A guest worker program were well received, but the guest worker program gets tossed in with the entire immigration issue, so that remains a difficult issue to get resolution on,” Stevens noted. “We also heard from committee members how well-respected Farm Bureau is in the nation’s capital, and that they are the go-to organization on The Hill for information on agricultural issues.”

Former Montana legislator Moore pointed out that even though Montana’s delegation knows more about agricultural issues than others serving in the House and Senate, sitting across the table from them is paramount. 

“We discussed H-2A waivers and the Grassley-Fischer cattle market reform bill and how it will affect us as farmers and ranchers. Our delegation knows about an issue from 30,000 feet, but it’s still important for them to hear how a certain piece of legislation is going to affect your farm or ranch,” Moore noted. “It’s critical to sit down with them and their staff and walk through the details. They need to hear your story. When I was in Helena, I knew the different lobbyists and who they represented, but having someone from my district tell me how a law will impact them in the real world; that’s the most effective lobbying you can do.”

“It was truly fantastic having our farmer and rancher members in Washington this week,” said Rolf, who coordinated the Congressional and committee visits. “The opportunity for real producers to share their stories and examples with our delegation, as well as professionals who staff relevant policy committees, is incredibly valuable. Our folks definitely made a positive difference for Montana agriculture.”