From the farm to the United States Capitol, Land O’Lakes dairy and retail member-owners can share their stories with lawmakers in many different settings. Three such distinct legislative advocacy events recently occurred.
In March, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited the Caledonia, Minn., farm of member-owner Doug Heintz.
Member-owner Brad Vold participated in a dairy discussion panel broadcast on radio April 4 in Albany, Minn., with U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (MN-7).
Board members and senior leaders of the ProVision Partners Cooperative based in Marshfield, Wis., traveled to Washington, D.C., April 8-11 to talk with legislators from their state.
Autumn Price, vice president of Government Relations for Land O'Lakes, said the three are examples of ways members-owners can advocate and educate lawmakers about their industry. Land O’Lakes legislative advocacy efforts currently focus on three areas: trade, specifically with China and NAFTA, a new Farm Bill before the old one expires Sept. 30, and immigration reform.
“We can’t expect policymakers to understand our needs and to shape policy that will help us stay competitive if we’re not explaining to them how these policies impact our business,” Price says. “It has to be a continued engagement, and you have to do it every chance you get."
During the April 4 dairy panel, Vold emphasized that farmers must let state and federal legislators hear their voices.
“Sometimes farmers traditionally don’t like to make those calls or make those visits to state legislatures or D.C. because they don’t think anyone is going to listen,” says Vold, whose farm, Dorrich Dairy, is located in Glen-wood, Minn. “That isn’t the case. These people do want to hear from their constituents. A phone call, an email, a letter. It doesn’t have to be much to get our stories out there.”
Klobuchar's March 10 trip to Heintz Badger Valley Farm was her second visit there. The Minnesota senator was there about six years ago, right after the farm's installation of robotic milkers.
“She wanted to come back and see how everything was going,” says Heintz, whose farm has 210 cows plus 500 acres used to grow feed. “We were the first robotic setup that she ever toured or had seen."
On the second visit, he told her how the farm’s efficiency and productivity had improved thanks to the milkers. Heintz, however, spent most of his time with Klobuchar talking about issues facing the dairy industry, such as thanking her for voting on changes to the dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP). That provides dairy producers with payments when dairy margins fall below their chosen coverage levels.
“Typically, we have to go to Washington to visit with them,” he says. “So, it’s awful nice to be in our setting ver-sus hers, which is very comfortable for us. I guess my shock was (Klobuchar and her staff) remembered detail after detail of their last visit.”
The April 4 dairy discussion panel was broadcast live on KASM-AM 1150 in front of about 100 people. Panelists agreed times are tough for the industry. They all took turns offering their opinions on ways to improve business.
Besides Vold and Peterson, the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, the panel included Kevin Papp, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, and Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union. Wertish thinks there should be more money in the Farm Bill, and Peterson agreed. Vold emphasized that trade is vital for the dairy industry. His farm has 450 dairy cows and 600 acres to grow feed.
"The changes made to the MPP program are a step in the right direction, which was good for people to hear," Vold says. “But I think the reality is that the world has a lot of milk. We have to focus on getting people on the ground to stimulate trade and our export markets."
With the dairy economy sagging, ProVision Partners decided to hold its annual board meeting in Washington so members could also talk with federal lawmakers from their home state of Wisconsin. Each year co-op leaders travel out-of-state for the board meeting.
The ProVision Partners fly-in visit to Washington is a pilot advocacy program of sorts, Price says. Land O’Lakes hosts annual fly-ins with cooperative members, but this was the first time a member co-op partnered with the Government Relations team to host a fly-in of its own.
"We’re trying to figure out how best to engage more of our farmers in advocacy work,” she says. "We are test-ing this to see how it goes. And if it goes well, we will build on it."
Price says ProVision Partners’ leaders received better access to lawmakers by leveraging Land O’Lakes than if they traveled to Washington on their own. “We think there is value for a lot of our members,” she says. “It’s a service we’re trying to provide.”
The ProVision contingent met with Senator Tammy Baldwin and representatives from the offices of Senator Ron Johnson, and Representatives Ron Kind (WI-3) and Sean Duffy (WI-7). Chuck Connor, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, also spoke to the group.
David Brill, board chairman of ProVision, deemed the trip a success. Trade and the MPP were two issues co-op leaders stressed with legislators.
“Our board explained the problems we’re having down on the farm and the real effects of the issues on hand in today’s world,” he says.
Abby Daul, 17, a junior at Marshfield High School, was there with her father, Ben, a ProVision director. It was her first trip to Washington, and she participated in the legislative meetings. Abby posed two questions to legis-lative aides: How can we get more involved with getting kids to visit farms though school activities (Food for America programs) and how can we achieve getting a fair price so the younger generation can become part of the farm?
“I was a little skeptical at first if they were going to listen to us and take it back, but I believe they will,” she said.
Land O’Lakes works hard to take a leadership position on legislative issues of importance to our industry. But our true strength lies in the collective voice of our cooperative system through great member advocacy exam-ples like these and many others. Thank you to everyone who raised their voice on key issues and shared the story of modern agriculture.