By Dave Russell and Matt Reese
Believe it or not, there were issues other than the coronavirus discussed on the late March trip to Washington, D.C. for the Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents. In many ways it was still business as usual with policy to discuss, on-farm stories to share and relationships to build, said Frank Burkett, Ohio Farm Bureau president.
“This is a trip of opportunities that come with relationships our leaders have built over the course of time,” Burkett said. “We spoke with the group and told them they need to share their experiences. When you are here and actually experience it and actually have the conversations, you see that it is really critical that we have the ability to come to D.C. and have that dialog. That means a lot. As we become less of a percentage of the population, it is important that lawmakers understand what farmers are doing and that what they are doing impacts what we are doing on the farm.”
One common topic was the importance of rural broadband infrastructure.
“We talk about things that are core to our businesses, like trade and labor, regulation and the impact it has on farms. There are a lot of questions and emphasis on rural broadband access and what that looks like moving forward,” Burkett said. “When we start talking about telemedicine or working remotely with the coronavirus issue and the technology on the farm and what that means to farm families and communities, it is critical that we have improved rural broadband.”
AFBF policy points out that rural broadband is essential to modern agriculture and the organization supports using the federal Universal Service Fund to expand broadband deployment to rural areas and using a combination of tax incentives, grants and/or regulation to increase the use of broadband access in rural areas. AFBF is also supportive of the DATA Act, sent to President Trump for a signature, which requires broadband providers to report more specific data to create a significantly more accurate National Broadband Map. With more precise data, federal agencies can target funding to areas that need it most.
In addition to broadband, the farmers discussed the changing climate and other issues with their lawmakers.
“We talked about farmer mental health, some of the tax reform laws and some gains that have been made and keeping those in place,” said Greg Wells, the vice president of Ross County Farm Bureau who was on the trip. “There are infrastructure issues like locks and dams, larger transportation issues that affect commodity marketing. We need to make sure we have the infrastructure in place to market our commodities.”
With taxes, much of the discussion was around keeping the existing situation in place for reliability and consistency moving forward. The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017 was beneficial to most Ohio farms. Important provisions in the measure include reduced tax rates, the new business income deduction, provisions to allow the matching of income and expenses, immediate cost recovery, and an increase in the estate tax exemption. Many of the pass-through business provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, though, are temporary and should be made permanent, according to AFBF policy.
Good things happen when farmers take the time to share their stories to Capitol Hill, said Adam Sharp, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau.
“We appreciate their time away from their families and their communities to come here and talk to policy makers and educating them about what they do back on their farms,” Sharp sad. “Few groups, when they come to Washington, D.C., get a White House briefing from top officials and get the leadership of Congress speaking to them like we have had on this trip. And they get a chance to share what they think these leaders should know about agriculture. We encourage our country presidents to share what they learn and what they know when they get back home.”