The farm bill, immigration and environmental issues dominated conversations between farmers and federal leaders during the Alabama Farmers Federation’s annual Washington Legislative Conference Feb. 28-March 2.
While farmers expect the farm bill being crafted by Congress to contain cuts to agricultural spending, Sen. Pat Roberts, the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told Federation members they should remind legislators of the sacrifices and cuts that agriculture has already made in terms of the budget.
“When you’re doing the cutting, you don’t have to do it with a Lizzie Borden meat ax,” said Roberts, a Kansas Republican. “You can use a scalpel, and then take a look at it and see what you’ve done and what you’ve done to policy. But a meat ax-approach is really very counterproductive.”
Roberts also reminded farmers that their job is vital to national security. Farmers are the best at sharing their own stories, he said.
“I am committed to spreading the word about the good work you all are doing, but the fact of the matter is there is no better spokesperson for agriculture than you, and we’re going to need your help,” Roberts said. “Show me a country that can’t sustain its food supply and I’ll show you a country in chaos. Just look at the Middle East if you don’t believe it’s true.”
Other speakers included Washington attorney Gary Baise, who discussed the overreaching power of the Environmental Protection Agency, and John Anderson, senior economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), who discussed the general budget proposals in the farm bill.
Farmers also heard from speakers about AFBF public policy and conservation programs.
Federation members enjoyed breakfast breakout sessions with their respective U.S. Representatives that included many one-on-one conversations about issues specific to their district.
U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., serves on the House Agriculture Committee. She said meeting with farmers is important as the farm bill is being drafted.
“I really am grateful for all of the time that our farmers have spent with my staff and with me making sure we understand all the issues so we can be the best advocates possible for them,” Roby said. “I encourage all of our farmers to continue to reach out to us to make sure we are equipped with all the information we need to make good decisions on the things that affect them.”
U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., also serves on the House Agriculture Committee and thanked farmers for their visit.
“During our visit I heard the concerns, challenges and issues facing the agriculture community in Alabama as well as priorities for the 2012 farm bill,” Sewell said. “Agriculture is a bipartisan issue. It plays a significant role in Alabama and the U.S. economy and is essential to ensuring that all Americans have access to healthy, quality and affordable food. Maintaining a strong and vibrant agricultural sector is not only critical to our economic recovery but is vital to the overall nutrition and well-being of families across this nation.”
Roby said despite being from different political parties, she and Sewell put party differences aside and work together for what’s best for their state and the country.
“We believe we have a responsibility to work together in order to make good decisions,” Roby said.
U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, both Republicans from Alabama, joined Federation members for lunch, where they continued further dialogue about the nation’s deficit spending.
Sessions said Americans are victims of a government that has refused to live within its means.
“Forty cents of every dollar the U.S. spends is borrowed,” Sessions said. “It’s not the high cost of living, but the cost of living too high,” that has created the deficit.
Federation State Board Member Darrel Haynes echoed politicians who emphasized the importance of farmers meeting face-to-face with policymakers, noting that while there are many obstacles farmers face that they have no control over, establishing a worthwhile relationship with their representatives shouldn’t be one of them.
“There are 2 percent of us (farmers), and it becomes increasingly difficult to convince the other 98 percent that agriculture and agricultural programs are vitally important... not just to us and our existence, but to their existence as well,” said Haynes. “It’s always encouraging to know that we have people in Washington that share our passion for agriculture and the agricultural industry that we love.”