Next week, Illinois corn farmers are headed to The Hill to meet with legislators and discuss the pressing issues in the ag economy.
Next week, Illinois corn farmers are headed to The Hill to meet with legislators and discuss the pressing issues in the ag economy.
Countries trade with each other when on their own, they do not have enough resources to satisfy their people’s needs and wants. Countries that produce a surplus of product can trade for other resources they need.
More than 25 percent of all U.S. ag production goes to markets outside of our border. Agricultural trade is a generator of income for millions of people in the industry. Trade is critical to the livelihood of the US ag sector because it spurs economic growth for our farmers and ranchers and their communities. The expansion of agricultural trade has helped provide greater quantity, wider variety, and better quality food to our growing population. Agricultural exports support more than 1 million jobs to Americans. Without our expanded trade, the ag economy as a whole would not be as strong as it is today.
When the president signed an order withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we were disappointed because we saw the TPP as a positive event for our industry as it would have added billions of dollars to our economy. Now we need to work immediately to develop new markets for our country’s goods and product interest in the Pacific region.
As Trump withdrew from this agreement, many concerns have arose from the agriculture industry producers. There are many states that really depend on trade to keep them standing. Farmers and ranchers are afraid that with this agreement, they will be losing trade and losing money. A lot of farmers are currently scared about what is happening, and if they are going to be able to keep their farms and support their families.
The livestock industry had in its sights a future of expansion and export growth. After Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that has almost completely disappeared. We need trade agreement in place to provide an opportunity for farmers to sell their products.
There are people all over the United States that depend on exports to keep their jobs. With future export opportunities and the question if other countries are going to pick up more exports, U.S. farmers are wondering if they are going to be in trouble.
Western Illinois University
Scrolling through the archives, I found this article posted on November 10 last year. Reading it takes me back to the uncertainty of America as she woke up following election day 2016. Many of us were surprised by the election results and scrambling to make some sense of what would come next. In the IL Corn office, there were also excited feelings – as following any major change in electorate – about the challenges of educating a new President about our issues and the opportunities that a new administration might hold.
Almost a year through this presidency, we’ve been on a roller coaster ride.
Back then, we were excited about the promise of a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and Presidency and the results that such an alignment might deliver. Happily, nothing negative has happened, but neither have any positive results passed for the country. There’s just – nothing. This conservative voter is disappointed to see that having a majority in both houses of Congress and the Executive Office still doesn’t deliver results.
One year ago, Illinois looked forward to working with our newest member of Congress, Raja Krishnamoorthi. This relationship couldn’t have played out better! Congressman Krishnamoorthi is responsive to our requests and accessible to farmers. He is interested in learning about agriculture – the economic driver of Illinois – and willing to help see farmers succeed.
Senator Duckworth is also finishing out her first year in the Senate with many accolades from IL Corn. We appreciate her support of ethanol and her willingness to learn about the need for lock and dam upgrades, but we had experienced a positive relationship working with her in Congress and expected nothing less.
Farmers are pleased with the team President Trump has assembled for himself, specifically as relates to agriculture. The President’s choice for Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, has been an asset leading our industry and farmers are also happy with nominations for Bill Northey, Steve Censky, Ted McKinney, and others. We see this team coming to agriculture’s defense and helping to promote the industry as recently as last week when Sec Perdue said that withdrawing from NAFTA would have “some tragic consequences.”
Speaking of NAFTA, we worried about it one year ago and we’re still worried about trade today. President Trump’s trade conversations have caused a bit of upheaval with our foreign customers. IL Corn was disappointed to see America step out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and nervous to hear of a potential “cancellation” of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). At the same time, farmers have seen the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule stopped in its tracks and are mostly pleased with the administration of the Environmental Protection Agency taking more of a commonsense, science-based approach to environmental regulations.
All in all, you win some, you lose some. I suppose that’s the way our government is designed. A win for any one industry or any one person wouldn’t always be good for the whole, right?
Our office remains excited about the opportunity to work with the administration and the Congress towards some of our most important priorities.
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director
Farmers are often considered to be a “jack of all trades”, and there is a reason for that. On any given day, they can be mechanics, construction workers, scientists, and meteorologists. What most people don’t think farmers specialize in is policy, but they do that too. It makes sense if you think about it. There are a lot of rules when it comes to farming, and they need to stay up to date on legislative issues because they directly affect their livelihood.
They have a lot to lose
Because farmers have so much invested, they also have a lot. In all reality, it is a wonder that farmers are able to survive in today’s economy. It may seem like their fields of green turn into the best kind of green (money), but that is not always the case. Farmers spend millions on their harvesters, planters fertilizers, irrigation, sheds, seeds and land but that doesn’t mean that they have millions. Their inputs cost so much, that they need the highest prices out of their outputs possible just to stay afloat. The government can help farmers through creating policies that help farmers yield the most out of their inputs.
Farmers are usually self-employed
In my family, my parents’ employers provide insurance and retirement, but that usually isn’t the case for farmers. Especially if the farmer’s spouse does not have outside employment, they have to make room in their income for things that most people are provided in the workplace. In order to afford this, they need to make their voice heard to lawmakers when it comes time to create policies like health care acts. Farmers also need the government to support companies that give them loans to make large purchases like equipment. Especially considering that farming is dangerous, farmers need insurance.
They care about their families
Even if they make enough to provide for their family right now, they can never be certain for the future. Farming is a family tradition. Most farmers have been passed down land from many generations, and they want to pass it down to their children. When farmers get involved in legislative issues involving agriculture, it is because they care about the future of their farm. One year yields could reach an all-time high, and the next year a drought could kill all of the crops. On top of this, land is becoming more and more valuable with technology advancements. Legislators need to implement policies that ensure long-term farming success, and they are more likely to listen to the farmers talk about their families than anyone else.
For some farmers, it’s a hobby
Policy is interesting. Even if a farmer runs a very successful operation, they might be involved just because they can make a difference for other farmers. The agriculture industry is huge, and companies have plenty of representation, but what politicians like to see are the real people, like farmers, who care.
Over the summer, I was able to see how involved farmers actually are in farm policy. They want to talk to legislators, and they want to be heard. Because farming is so necessary to our economy, farming is highly regulated. The people who know agriculture best are the farmers cultivating the land, which is why their voice matters the most.
University of Illinois
It’s late July and the U.S. House of Representatives is preparing for August recess. Congressmen and women are headed home to their districts for some one-on-one time reconnecting with constituents.
Make sure you are on their agenda.
I’m always a little shocked when I hear this because it’s never been a part of my personal reality, but the feedback I hear most often after I’ve visited the Hill with farmers is that people are shocked that they can actually sit down with their Congressman and say what’s on their minds. AND THEIR CONGRESSMAN WILL LISTEN.
The sad fact is, the media makes our elected officials out to be monsters sometimes. Yes, some make grave mistakes. Yes, some are in office for the completely wrong reasons. But the vast majority that I have met actually want to serve their districts and are trying to govern and compromise the best that they can.
Your Congressman WILL listen to what you have to say – and making an appointment with him or her when they are back in district for the month of August is the perfect time to make that connection.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A CONGRESSIONAL APPOINTMENT
Really, the hardest part is making yourself make that first phone call and scheduling time for an appointment – but having a relationship with your elected official is one of the most important things you can do, and a right that so many in the world don’t have.
Don’t miss August recess! Do this today!
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director
When IL Corn farmer leaders travel to Washington, DC, there is almost no free time! By the time we schedule in meetings with other interested associations and companies, by the time we background ourselves on what’s going on in Washington, DC and meet with our elected officials (all 20 of them!), and by the time we participate in fundraisers for the Congressmen who have helped us, we’re running from 6 am til 9 pm and that’s no exaggeration.
But the work farmers do in D.C. is so important to protecting farm families and rural life.
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director
Kristen is the Issues Manager for GROWMARK. She communicates, educates, and advocates to policymakers and regulators on behalf of GROWMARK and the FS System. She is responsible for the territories of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. She also works on certain federal legislation as well.
Jacey: What inspired you to want this type of career?
Kristen: When I was a senior in high school, I attended the Women Changing the Face of Agriculture Conference and met two women who worked for Illinois Farm Bureau educating urban legislators about the importance of agricultural issues. Up until that point, I did not know that I could combine my passion for agriculture with my interest in politics and government. I added a Political Science minor when I got to Illinois State the following August and set my sights on a career in Government Relations for an agriculture organization.
Jacey: What are some of your main job duties?
Kristen: I research issues and determine the impact on GROWMARK and our member cooperatives. I then work with legislators or regulatory officials to provide input on these proposals and try to shape the outcome of the process. I develop position papers and written comments as well as provide legislative updates to various stakeholders.
Jacey: How easy or difficult is it to promote agriculture agendas to legislatures who don’t come from an agriculture background?
Kristen: It can be a challenge at times, but I have found that most legislators and their staff want to understand more about the agriculture industry. They seek out opportunities to visit one of our facilities or a farm in their district and see the impact of a piece of legislation firsthand. A part of my role is organizing these types of educational opportunities. In fact, this August is our annual congressional staff tour that we coordinate in conjunction with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and the Illinois Soybean Association Checkoff Board. The tour is a great opportunity for staff members of the Illinois delegation to learn more about agriculture issues and have the chance to talk to farmers one-on-one.
Jacey: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to pursue a career in agriculture?
Kristen: One piece of advice I have is to take advantage of every opportunity to learn more about our industry. I did not grow up on a farm and my parents do not even work in the agriculture industry, so I had a lot of learning to do. Farmers and agriculturists want to impart their knowledge on the next generation, you just have to listen and now be afraid to ask questions when you don’t know something. Never stop learning either. One of my favorite parts about my job is learning about different agricultural crops and growing practices. I grew up surrounded by corn and soybeans, so I enjoy learning about the production of cranberries, tomatoes, potatoes, and even ginseng while traveling throughout my territory.
Illinois State University
Michael Alston grew up in Michigan and played football at Michigan State University, but never considered that his career would lead him to agriculture. Alston is currently the Associate Administrator of the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and Deputy Manager of the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) Board, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In this role, he is the senior career employee within the RMA.
The RMA is the agency that administers and oversees the federal crop insurance program. This program helps farmers insure their crops against weather losses like tornadoes, droughts, or hail, as well as against total losses from other pests and pressures. The program covers more than $100 billion in liabilities nationwide every year.
Alston oversees the daily operations of the agency, advises the Office of the Secretary on RMA issues and positions, and also ensures the safety and workplace environment of the Washington, DC and field office employees.
Lindsay: What path led you to this position at this time?
Michael: Working here, in this position, has been a 30-year journey. After I graduated from Michigan State University, I took a job with the Justice Department, which led me to live and work overseas. From the Justice Department, I worked for the State Department for a few years, and at that point in my life, some personal factors led me to switch careers and work for the USDA.
At that time, USDA was looking for leaders, and by that time I had developed some good leadership skills so it was a good fit for me. I worked in Springfield, IL as the Deputy Director of that RMA office and then became the Director there. After about 10 years in Springfield, I took a position in Washington, DC working as the Associate Deputy Administrator for Compliance and l later moved to the Deputy Administrator for Insurance Services. At this point in my career, I was overseeing the ten regional offices of the RMA, and working with the 16 private insurance companies and the binding document between the government and those insurance companies. I oversaw that process.
All of those positions in the USDA were essentially leadership positions – making decisions, providing the right information to the right people, ensuring the appropriate work was getting done, and often being strategic about what positions and what work was most important to accomplish a goal.
Lindsay: What do you love most about your job?
Michael: I know at the end of every day that I have helped and worked with someone in rural America.
I have always understood that rural America is the backbone of our country and that a lot of folks don’t understand where food comes from. When you have the opportunity to travel overseas to countries where food isn’t available as I have, you understand how important food security and food to sustain a country really is. Go to places where they don’t have food and then you are ready to invest in fresh, safe, cheap, available food.
So I love knowing that I’ve helped a farmer or rancher stay in business. I love knowing that I’ve expanded opportunities for them. I enjoy promoting rural America.
Lindsay: What skills/education do you believe have helped you to be successful?
Michael: For me in my career, the most important skill set is flexibility and adaptability. I think often times people hold onto some theory of the past, and it has long ago become obsolete. You constantly must look at yourselves and what you are doing and try to improve.
Also, the foundation of any leader is accountability and integrity. If you aren’t accountable or you don’t have personal integrity, no matter what you do, it doesn’t matter. You have nothing.
Lindsay: Describe a “day in the life” at your office.
Michael: I start at 8 am and I have meetings from 8 am to 4 pm.
I meet with folks from IT, I meet with folks from civil rights, I meet with the budget office, the chief financial officer, and folks from the FCIC Board. I spend my day talking to others, making decisions, and channeling information up or down.
Lindsay: Based on your experiences, do you think young people today should consider a career in agriculture?
Michael: Yes, definitely.
Agriculture makes up about 17 percent of all the jobs in the U.S. If you look strictly at rural America, that number goes up to about 35-40 percent. Most of those jobs are not about having your hands in the dirt – although that’s important – but there are so many other skill sets involved in the industry
In the USDA, I can go to any college campus in any discipline and hire someone. We need folks good at math, geography, finance, computers … there’s so much more to this industry than farming and ranching.
So yes, not only is it a vibrant industry, but it’s just very important and it sustains our country. I would definitely encourage young folks to think about agriculture.
After one of the longest, most surreal and arduous political campaigns in a generation, we have finally reached a conclusion. Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States. This was one of the most divisive campaigns in history with more twist and turns and mudslinging than most people generally thought possible.
Republicans have retained control of both the House and Senate. The House of Representatives, as expected, will remain in Republican hands. The Republicans maintain at least 238 seats, with four more yet to be called.
From Illinois, all but one of the seats will remain in the hands of the incumbent party. The only new Member from Illinois is Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Indian American who will fill the 8th district seat vacated by Congresswoman Duckworth. Brad Schneider, who was formerly a Member, defeated Rep. Bob Dold to take back his old seat in a 10th district rematch.
The Senate will remain in Republican control with 51 votes. Control of the Senate went down to the wire, with a number of races too close to call. Senator Kirk, long viewed as the most vulnerable Senator, lost re-election last night to Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth has had a good relationship with agriculture in Illinois and has been supportive of the Renewable Fuel Standard and needed infrastructure improvements to our inland waterways.
Republicans will also continue to hold the majority of governorships across the country. Here are a few key statistics as of Wednesday morning:
Donald Trump’s campaign did not provide significant information on agriculture in the primaries or general election. Because of this, it is difficult to say what USDA priorities will be in a Trump Administration, as they did not make their positions well-known. He has vowed to rescind many of the regulations enacted by the Obama Administration, which could include the Clean Power Plan, the WOTUS rule, among others. Additionally, Trump’s anti-trade agreement message seems to have resonated well with many of his supporters. Look for a President Trump to either abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or begin to negotiate a new trade agreement. He may also make efforts to change aspects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Agriculture stakeholders should begin doing outreach to the new Trump Administration political appointees as they start to take their new positions.
Congress returns to Washington next week and will begin to address appropriations past December 9 and also hold leadership elections for the 115th Congress.