Communicating face-to-face provides an essential way for farmers and ranchers to address their concerns with government officials. During the Montana Farm Bureau Fly-In June 10-13 in Washington, D.C. Montana Farm Bureau members had excellent opportunities to meet with lawmakers and agency personnel. The Fly-In participants—Susan Lake from Ronan, Don Steinbeisser, Jr. from Sidney and Kris Descheemaeker from Lewistown, were selected to attend based on their prior advocacy efforts in Montana.

The action-packed schedule included meetings with Senators Steve Daines, Senator Jon Tester and Representative Greg Gianforte as well as with the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.  In addition, the group met with the American Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Dale Moore and with AFBF public policy directors.

“I believe this is the first time I’ve been to Washington, D.C. and had the opportunity to meet personally with all of our Congressional delegation,” said Steinbeisser, a diversified farmer. “I had the chance to talk to each one about labor shortages facing farmers even in Montana and how to improve and streamline the H2A guest worker program. We explained the importance of passing the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement. All three of our congressmen realize how critical trade is to Montana’s farmers and ranchers.”

Susan Lake talked to the congressmen and their aides about the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Compact and the importance of passing the critical piece of water compact legislation at the national level. “All of our congressmen have done excellent work investigating the compact and explaining it to people,” she said. In addition, Lake encouraged the group to visit Senator Cramer, North Dakota and had the opportunity to meet with his legislative director, Micah Chambers. “It’s important to build relationships with neighboring states and see what bills are moving through that affect us all,” she said.

Rural broadband was an issue on the minds of Farm Bureau members and congressmen. Senator Tester is a co-sponsor of a bill that would call for the mapping of all broadband across the U.S. to show what areas are underserved. “Rural broadband has been a hot-button issue in Montana, and it’s important our Congressional delegation signs on to legislation to see who has it and who needs it,” said Descheemaker.

Agency visits were fruitful, as well. Descheemaeker especially found their meeting at the Department of the Interior productive. “We discussed the Endangered Species Act and the fact Grizzly bears are wandering further and further onto the Plains. We covered rules and regulations coming down the pike in regards to endangered species. 

A visit with CFTC Commissioner Brian Quintenz and several of his staff gave the group a look at how that agency regulates futures and option markets. “They seemed very interested in how farmers use the system and how it has worked for them. They told us about their enforcement rules to prevent bad trades from happening,” Steinbeisser said. “They couldn’t ask enough questions of us. I’m glad the CFTC will be coming to Montana next month to talk to more ag producers.”

Steinbeisser noted that coming to Washington, D.C. is well worth the time. “Summer is a tough time of year for farmers to get away, but no matter what time of year, it’s important to come to D.C. When you do, you get to tell your story. Whether you are a farmer, rancher or a Montana citizen, our congressmen and agencies want to know if the work they do is making a difference back in Montana. They are very attentive to what our concerns are.”

Descheemaeker echoed the responses of the others praising the Fly-In. “It was truly wonderful and encouraging to see the respect that Farm Bureau has here. Being respected and known is important to building networks, and I feel that Susan, Don and I have now learned the art of building those essential networks. We strongly encourage other members to apply for next-year’s Fly-In.”