MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH YOUR CONGRESSMAN TODAY

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

  1. Call whichever district office for your Congressman is closest to you.  Ask when the Congressman will be in and make an appointment.
  2. Think about your top three concerns.  It’s hard to reduce it down to just three, but your meeting will be much more productive if you focus in on just the few most important things.
  3. Be prepared to talk about your three top priorities and how they are impacting YOU, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR COMMUNITY.  Your Congressman is much less interested in talking points, and much more interested in you.  The good thing about this one is you don’t have to look up data and statistics if that’s not what you’re good at.  You don’t have to flood the Congressman with information or justification about your worry.  You simply have to tell him or her that this issue is impacting the health of your family, your family budget, your retirement plan, etc.  Information on how much extra the concern could cost your family is relevant, but you really don’t need more data than that!
  4. When you enter the office, share your name and a business card with the staff that greets you.  Grab a business card from the office staff as well.
  5. When your Congressman is able to sit down with you, share your concerns, be respectful, and be prepared for a conversation.  He or she may disagree with the way you’d fix this particular issue and that’s ok.  Elected officials are ready to hear from folks with many different viewpoints, and can actually have their minds changed if they hear from enough of their constituents that disagree with their point of view.
  6. After the visit, email a thank you note to the staff business card you grabbed.  Ask the staff to relay your thanks to the Congressman and reiterate your three priorities.  Staff are often following issues and briefing the elected official so making sure staff understands your concerns is just as important!

That’s it!

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!

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

SIX REASONS FARMERS VISIT WASHINGTON, DC

  1. TO EXPLAIN HOW THEY LIVE: It’s no secret that every single year, more and more kids leave the farm and the rural areas where they’ve grown up for the bigger cities.  Flat out, there is just more opportunity in ST. Louis or Chicago for those young Americans.  Even if they want to stay in the ag industry, they have multiple opportunities to work for the Chicago Board of Trade or for Monsanto in the bigger cities than they do in the rural areas.  The result is that many of our legislators just don’t know what it is to live on the farm or even in a rural area.  Who better to explain farm family life to them, but farmers?
  2. FARMERS ARE LESS THAN 2 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION: And even among those 2 percent, a majority will never travel to Washington, DC and will never make an appointment to see their elected official.  It means so much to those elected officials to see real farmers in their Washington, DC offices – to have someone to ask questions of and to reflect on problems with.  Farmers really ought to visit our nation’s capital more often!
  3. TO EXPLAIN HOW POLICIES MIGHT OR MIGHT NOT WORK: Because legislators aren’t always super aware of rural life or of how to farm, they need farmers in their office to talk them through potential policy ideas.  While a farm bill is being debated, for example, farmers need to be available to point out successes or pitfalls of potential policy.  How will legislators who have never farmed understand how a policy might really work on an actual farm?
  4. TO SEE HOW THEY CAN HELP: Sometimes, legislators that really do try hard to represent their district and enact policies that make a difference need help too.  An elected official might be trying to do the right thing, but media or other non-supporters in his or her district are swinging the other way, which makes the right thing difficult.  Farmers often ask how they can help their Congressman on any potential issues in the district.  If a Congressman is genuinely trying to do the right thing for his district, farmers definitely want to help that Congressman so that he or she can remain in office.
  5. TO DONATE MONEY: It takes money to get elected into Congress and to remain in Congress.  Whether that’s right or wrong, farmers will often visit Washington, DC to donate funds to the elected officials who help them on pro-farm and pro-rural life policy initiatives.  Farmer leaders want to enable the best Congressman who try to understand agriculture and rural life to remain in office.
  6. TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE DYNAMICS OF VARIOUS POLICY INITIATIVES: Often when farmers visit Washington, DC, they are able to meet with other national associations, companies, and think tanks to gather information and get a better picture of the dynamics influencing policy decisions.  For example, if farmers really want to pass tax reform, they need to meet with other impacted parties to determine how certain tax reforms might work for them.  Perhaps there’s a negative impact that the farmers haven’t considered and the policy idea can be changed.  Perhaps many associations are in favor of the same tax fix and they can all work together to show Congress why one idea is better than another.

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.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

AG CAREER PROFILES: ISSUES MANAGER

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.

Jacey Wickenhauser
Illinois State University

AG CAREER PROFILES: WHAT DOES A GOVERNMENT AGENCY EXEC DO?

12-8-16alston_0824Michael 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.

ag-careers_executiveI 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.

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
Marketing Manager
IL Corn

AFTER THE ELECTION – WHAT COMES NEXT?

Trump_Nom_072216After 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.

tammy_duckworthThe 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:

  • 013-04-18t201616z_2132165920_gm1e94j0bon01_rtrmadp_3_usa-immigration-visas_1f814cd4ecf72d45a2bb0dd23993fdf5-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Senator Schumer (D-NY) is expected to replace Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) as Senate Minority Leader.
  • Senator Inhofe (R-OK) steps down as the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Senator Barrasso (R-ID) will likely replace him.
  • Committee Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is retiring and will likely be replaced by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE).
  • House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers is term-limited and will likely be replaced by Rep. Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) or Aderholt (R-AL).
  • We are not expecting changes to the leadership of the House and Senate Ag Committees.

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.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE TPP

what_is_tpp
1. What is the TPP?

TPP stands for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP creates rules and agreements for trade all over the world. The amount of tax on imports and exports and other regulations for countries are laid out in this agreement. A review of the effects that the TPP will have on agriculture in the United States can be read in full here.

2. What will the TPP do for United States Agriculture?

The implementation of the TPP will increase cash receipts for livestock. What this means is that the United States will trade more livestock products to other countries, increasing income from what we get from these goods now. This estimated raise in livestock exports pairs well with the expected decrease in the country’s trade of corn. This is because we will be able to keep that corn in the country and use it to feed the higher number of livestock that we are growing for trade. This use of corn is adding more value to the industry than it would if it was simply traded in bulk. Also, the overall farm income is expected to increase $4.4 billion for the country which is a very positive result for agriculture.

3. What will the TPP do for Illinois Agriculture?

1As the deal increases cash receipts for the entire country, it would also do great things for Illinois agriculture. The chart shown explains that cash receipts for many Illinois products increase greatly with implementation of the TPP. This increase in income also comes with an estimated 960 jobs into the Illinois economy, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. Corn is the biggest agriculture industry in Illinois and the exports from the country are expected to decline; however, Illinois is a perfect example of how that corn that is not being exported can be used to raise livestock. The TPP will also increase overall trade for other Illinois products such as pork, soybeans, and processed foods.

This trade deal is a big step for agriculture and the economy of the country. The American Farm Bureau Federation stresses the importance of the United States getting on board with the deal quickly. Other countries are ahead of the United States in making trade agreements that could help their economies.

global-tpp-picture

There will soon be more news on the ratification of this in the United States.

Any questions? Ask in the comments!!

amanda-rollins

Amanda Rollins
Illinois State University

“I VOTED” STICKERS ARE IN THIS SEASON

It’s National Voter Registration Day! Have you registered to vote yet? Organizations and plain-old politically active citizens are spending the day helping raise awareness about registering to vote and even helping people go through the process. Some might not think voter registration is all that important, but here’s a snapshot of voter history in Illinois during general elections since 1964:

voter_registration

A quick glance at the numbers might seem pretty good, but those percentages are based on registered voters who then went on to vote in the election. If you look at Illinois’ population of voting age individuals (approx. 9.7 million), the turnout percentage will likely be around 55% for this year. That’s not too great anymore, right? Voter turnout is even worse during election years where there is not a presidential candidate.

It doesn’t help that some states (like Illinois) don’t have automatic voter registration systems, meaning each person has to individually register to vote. Registration deadlines and requirements (like having a permanent residential address) can complicate matters even more. So National Voter Registration Day is both a helpful reminder but also a non-partisan campaign to ensure that eligible voters can participate in the democratic process.

nvrd-social-graphics-04Not registered? No problem (well I can’t guarantee that, but, hey, points for optimism)! We can fix that (maybe)! Many states have their own system for registering voters, but here are a few general resources:

Within these websites you can find information like:

  • State-by-state deadlines to register to vote, to request an absentee ballot, and to turn in an absentee ballot
  • A list of states that offer online registration
  • A form to find out if you’re registered to vote
  • Who will be on your ballot including national, state, and municipal candidates
  • Election reminders via text message (super modern, right?)
  • What to do if you’ve moved to another city in the same state
  • How deployed military personnel and/or families can vote
  • How to vote if you’re studying abroad, on sabbatical, or just don’t know when or if you’re coming back to the United States
  • Requirements to vote early
  • Official voting hours on election day
  • Resources for college students away from home on election day

So why talk about voting on an ag blog?

i-votedToo often we think of Election Day being about the future president. Sure, it takes center stage. This election will be momentous for our country and its future direction, but other decisions are being made on that day. The candidates on the ballot for local, regional, and state elections are just as important as presidential candidates. These elections select the leaders of your community, the people who will have a direct and a tangible impact on your future and the health of the community in which you live.

Also, do research before you vote. It might seem tedious to learn about all of these people rather than just select a random name or not vote at all, but think of it this way: Your vote is one more towards making sure the right people are elected who can represent your interests, your farm, and your family.

It’s not impossible that your vote can be the one that makes the difference.

McDonald_Taylor
Taylor McDonald
Communications Assistant
IL Corn

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: ILLINOIS STATE FAIR

IMG_8861This past Tuesday (August 16) was Ag Day at the Illinois State Fair. If you’re familiar with the history of the fair, you’ll know the fair’s primary purpose was for agriculture. People brought their animals from across the state and to compete in showing. For instance, the competition would decide which dairy cow had the best features and characteristic of the ideal dairy cow that would best carry on the breed. These competitions still exist today and have varying criteria based on the category/animal.

Since then, the Illinois State Fair has evolved to include a non-farming audience with different games, rides, concerts and foods. While no one is discounting the glory of a funnel cake, Ag Day was created to give a spotlight to the fair’s original intention. This year, IL Corn joined other agriculture organizations, farming families, and government leaders to showcase the industry while also engaging the non-farming community to learn about issues agriculture faces today.

Among the events:

 

 

  • 8-16-16rauner

    Government officials including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and U.S. Congressman for Illinois Cheri Bustos showed their support by meeting with industry leaders.

 

 

 

  • IMG_8851Illinois FFA members interacted with government and industry officials to talk shop as they learn more to become our nation’s next agriculture leaders.

 

 

Check out more from our Facebook, where we livestreamed an interview with Illinois FFA members and heard from IL Corn leaders.

AGRICULTURE: HOW DO THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES SHAPE UP?

Less than 83 days remain until the United States determines who will lead the country for the next four years. A new administration means the roll-out of new programs and legislative agendas. Therefore, it’s important to know for what these individuals stand, not just for what makes them famous (or infamous for that matter). The positions that candidates take now on such issues as agriculture can have impacts decades later. That’s why farmers must take a look at how or if the candidates prioritize agriculture.

For this first edition, we’ll start with the major party candidates, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump. The remaining independent party candidates will be covered in a later post.

(Sorting method: Candidates are not divided by preference. Last names are sorted alphabetically.)

Secretary Hillary Clinton – Democratic Party

hillary-accepts-nom-dnc-7-29-16Secretary Clinton has a direct connection to farming communities in her work with constituencies in rural, upstate New York. In August 2015, Secretary Clinton rolled out a plan to revitalize rural communities. While some points do not speak directly to farming, the emphasis on revitalizing rural towns, which are largely farming towns, would likely boost the agriculture economy. Within this plan, Secretary Clinton supported providing government subsidies for farmers that are struggling and helping the next generation of farmers with funding, education, and mentoring for “aspiring farmers and ranchers.”

Secretary Clinton also supports the expansion and use of renewable energy sources, including biofuels. She seeks a strengthening of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and actively opposes the EPA’s cutting back of already-established target blending levels.

On GM foods, Secretary Clinton supports a mandatory labeling program, citing the consumer’s right to know. Yet, in those same remarks, she upheld sound science and the need for GM seeds, particularly in populations that are drought-resistant.

Current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack endorsed Secretary Clinton in 2015.

Donald Trump – Republican Party

Trump_Nom_072216Although Mr. Trump does not have any direct connection to farming or rural communities, many of his stances have implications for the agriculture economy.

In 2015, Mr. Trump gave explicit support to the RFS in order to achieve energy independence from other nations. The federal program has been critical in expanding markets for renewable fuels such as ethanol.

Mr. Trump supports biotechnology and GMO foods and dispels the need for right-to-know labeling mandates. This comes in contradiction with a now-deleted tweet on the candidate’s infamous Twitter feed: “Too much #Monsanto in the #corn creates issues in the brain?”  The comment was originally made by a Nevada businessman. Mr. Trump later claimed it was an intern that re-posted the remark.

The candidate is also infamous for his plans on immigration reform. However, some have argued that his would decrease workforce numbers in agriculture significantly. The American Farm Bureau Federation noted that the ripple effects of deportation could be decreased production, increased food prices, and a drop in net farm income.

On August 16, 2016, Mr. Trump’s campaign announced that he has formed an agricultural advisory committee composed of several governors, including former 2016 GOP candidates Rick Perry and Jim Gilmore, and lawmakers. We should expect that more concrete agriculture solutions will come from Mr. Trump and his new brain trust in the following weeks.

Trade – A Hot Button Issue

Both presidential candidates are against current free trade agreements, specifically the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a wide-reaching, multi-national deal that has been a major focus of President Obama’s remaining time in office. The current White House administration proclaims that the “past seven years have represented the strongest period in history for American agricultural exports…totaling $911.4 billion.” Agriculture exports increased from $56 billion in 2000 to $155 billion in 2014, per the USDA. Clearly, farmers have a major stake in free trade with foreign nations. Aside from the issues that come from working with nations on a case-by-case basis (e.g. lack of multi-national support could reduce leverage and ethos to produce more efficient and effective deals), United States agriculture would fall victim on a financial level as they might severely scale back commodity exports, even just during negotiation of new trade deals.

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This review is not completely exhaustive but can hopefully give a clearer picture on how either candidate would influence the future of American farmers. It’s important that we choose someone who clearly stands in solidarity with the modern farmer.

In my next post, I’ll cover what the three remaining independent presidential candidates say about agriculture.

McDonald_Taylor

Taylor McDonald
Communications Assistant
IL Corn