Montana Farm Bureau members had the opportunity to experience a full gamut of Washington, D.C. during the MFBF Fly-In February 5-8. Gary Heibertshausen, Wes Jensen and J.M. Peck, led by MFBF National Affairs Director Nicole Rolf, visited with their Congressmen, met with agency personnel, toured the Supreme Court and discussed issues with American Farm Bureau policy experts.
“Our trip to the offices on Capitol Hill was excellent,” said Heibertshausen, a sheep rancher from Alzada. “Senator Daines greeted us at the door of his office. Although he had to head off to vote, he wanted to make sure he met us, and we were able to sit down with his top aides. We really appreciated Representative Gianforte and Senator Tester for the input on upcoming legislation.”
Agency meetings at the US Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency proved fruitful and interesting.
“We felt very welcome at the EPA. They walked us through the new water rule that is replacing the 2015 Waters of the U.S. It seems that for anyone working with water issues, it will be a lot clearer when you need a permit and when you don’t,” said Peck, MFBF Young Farmer & Rancher chair and cattle rancher from Melrose. “They have built workable rules that will stand the test of time and protect the water. We met with the Deputy Director for Agricultural Outreach and with their Senior Science Advisor. Sometimes in Montana, you feel D.C. is so far away, but when you sit down with people at an agency here, it’s a great feeling.”
While at the USDA, the group visited with eight staff members where they discussed new animal traceability rules, brucellosis and chronic wasting disease, as well as the beef check-off.
““It’s humbling that they wanted to hear from us and get our thoughts, said Jensen, MFBF District 6 Director and cattle rancher from Circle. “We had a long discussion about animal traceability rules. The agency remains committed to implementing plans for improved traceability, but they are studying it further so that when it is implemented, they will have even more input from producers and it will be clearer for everyone involved.”
Visits with the policy directors and economists at American Farm Bureau covered everything from tax issues and climate change to animal traceability, transportation and labor laws. “They are trying to get the H2A guest worker program so it’s less complicated for those hiring and being hired. AFBF keeps a close watch on those labor laws, such as one that would limit the sheepherders in this country. We wouldn’t have had a clue this was happening unless we visited with AFBF,” noted Heibertshausen, who serves as MFBF District 5 Director.
Jensen enjoyed the tour of the ultimate law of the land—the Supreme Court. “The justices meet three days a week. They pick which cases they want to hear from 7,000-8,000 cases. It was interesting to learn how the process works. It’s very calculated; for instance, when people give their argument, they have a certain amount of time, and there’s a light that tells them when time is up. It was fascinating to hear the history on how the Supreme Court evolved.”
All three men praised the MFBF Fly-In and encouraged other members to go through the application process for next year.
“It’s great. As I travel around my district, a lot of people say they don’t understand what is going on in Washington, D.C. The Fly-In is a prime way to have the opportunity to learn,” said Heiberthausen. “You go to the Hill, you meet with American Farm Bureau policy people and you meet one-on-one with people in the agencies. Everyone we met with—from the agencies to our Congressmen— was very cordial and invited us back. Don’t miss this opportunity.”