Sen. Rob Portman talks to Ohio Farm Bureau members on a recent trip to Washington, D.C.

Cultivating relationships with legislators

By Matt Reese

It’s all about relationships — even your farm. Whether it is with the brother, son, or daughter you work side-by-side with, the neighbor at the coffee shop, the mechanic you trust to work on your equipment, the seed dealer, the agronomist, the banker — it all boils down to relationships. On a farm, it is easy to get bogged down within the boundaries of the ground you farm, but there is so much beyond those borders that has a direct impact upon it. Relationships matter there too.

For this reason, relationships formed through involvement in farm organizations and advocacy also matter. This is at the heart of the recent trip by the Ohio Farm Bureau to Washington, D.C.

Finally, after the trip was cancelled last spring due to COVID restrictions, the Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents were able to meet with legislators and lobby for Ohio agriculture in our nation’s capital. Along for the trip this year were members of of Ohio Young Ag Professionals and the AgriPOWER group, combining the youth of OFBF membership with the more experienced county presidents. A key part of the trip is relationship building, both among organization members and the Ohio Farm Bureau relationships with lawmakers. 

“An important part of being advocates is building relationships over the years. You can have elected officials on your farms back home to connect with them, but also coming out to the place where they work is important too,” said Brandon Kern, senior director of state and national policy for Ohio Farm Bureau. “We are bidding farewell to two of our members of Congress, Senator Portman and Congressman Gibbs who have been longtime friends of agriculture. We did a little something special as a sendoff for them. I think they were both really touched. That really speaks to the personal relationship we’ve built with these members during their time here.” 

The timing of the trip worked well with the weather and with key policy discussions taking place in Washington, D.C. Top of mind were ongoing railroad worker strike discussions that could have potentially derailed agriculture from coast to coast for this fall’s harvests season. Fortunately, a last-minute deal was struck right at the end of the trip to avert a grain shipping catastrophe. In addition, farm bill discussions are ramping up and climate change remains a hot topic.

“It was a very busy week in D.C. We are approaching the next farm bill and our members have been talking about the importance of a farm bill in general. Members across the state continue to struggle with input prices and inflationary pressure,” Kern said. “There has been so much talk about climate change and there was a hearing this week on an item we have been actively advocating about, that is the Securities and Exchange Commission’s climate rule that would require companies to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions of their supply chains, which would include farmers in production agriculture. Farm Bureau members had a chance to talk directly to their members of Congress about that issue while it was going on.”

At the event, OFBF members were briefed on key issues and then they met with legislators in person to provide perspectives from their farms. Jonathan Zucker of the Young Agricultural Professionals went with a group to meet Rep. Jim Jordan.

“We had three main points with Jim Jordan. We were very concerned about the potential rail strike, we were very concerned with the farm bill and the future of crop insurance. A lot of farmers are using that to hedge against the future. The other main topic was WOTUS. We are still concerned about the EPA wanting to come and regulate the field tile and waterways,” Zucker said. “It is always great to be here with our seasoned veterans and with our congressmen. They want to know what we are going through and telling them our story is the most valuable thing we can do. I can’t think of a better place for Ohio Farm Bureau to be than right here.” 

The group heard from both of Ohio’s senators as well, including democrat Sherrod Brown.

“The best ideas don’t come from Washington, they come from Ohioans. They come from farmers themselves,” Brown said. “It’s why leading up to every farm bill, we’ve held roundtables around the state. We’ve done them at some of your farms, and we’ve already started them again this year.” 

Brown also talked about infrastructure, addressing inflation and ongoing supply chain issues.

“More and more people are finally beginning to see what we have known for a long time: it’s better for the long-term health of our economy and our communities when we produce more in America,” Brown said. “Whether it’s semiconductors from Asia or beef from Brazil, there’s a cost to long supply chains — and there’s a benefit to Ohioans when we bring them home.”

Issues that reach far beyond any Ohio farm were addressed on the trip where Ohio Farm Bureau members got to see first-hand the importance of meeting face-to-face to build relationships.

“It’s great to be back in person — the last time we spoke in-person was Wednesday, March 11, 2020. I remember greeting folks with an elbow tap, but we still didn’t fully appreciate that within a few days, the world was about to change,” Brown said. “It’s been a long two and a half years. And through it all, you have been hard at work to produce the food, fuel and fiber that is at the foundation of Ohio’s and our country’s economy.”  

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