By Leigh Ann Rutledge
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) county presidents and/or vice presidents, members of local media and other guests visited Washington D.C. for the OFBF County President’s Trip March 13-15.
The tour is held in March each year and gives county presidents the opportunity to talk with their congressmen and various representatives from agencies related to the agriculture industry.
The whirlwind trip includes brainstorming, presentations and, of course, good food. A total of 73 presidents and/or vice-presidents, including Carroll County Farm Bureau President Bernie Heffelbower, attended the 71st annual trip. Flying in from all over Ohio to five different airports, early arrivals had an opportunity to learn tips for advocacy on “The Hill” and how to be a successful Farm Bureau advocate. Groups met at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Office, located at 600 Maryland Ave. SW.
Participants had the option to tour the facility and check out the view from the roof. Though windy, the roof gave a fabulous view of the Capitol Building and the National Archives, among other sites. Following a box lunch, participants were briefed on the following American Farm Bureau issues: Regulatory reform, tax reform and trade.
Dr. John Newton, director of Market Intelligence for AFBF, briefed the group on the Farm Bill. He told the group the new farm bill will cost $1 trillion over 10 years. Of that cost, 80 percent will go toward nutrition (programs such as SNAP) while the remaining 20 percent goes towards conservation and commodities. Newton admitted he has concerns about the new farm bill since it is being written in a time of low commodity prices.
Keith Stimpert, senior vice president of OFBF, gave an update on the organization, followed by a presentation by nationally renowned expert on the grain and energy markets, Matt Roberts, PhD, agricultural economist and founder of The Kernmantle Group.
After checking into the Capitol Holiday Inn, guests changed into jeans and boots and headed to Hill Country BBQ on 7th St. The basement dining area has a wooden, beamed ceiling and a set of longhorn cattle horns on the front of the old-westernish type bar. Restrooms have wash-vat sinks and spigots like you would find in a milkhouse.
Food was served buffet style and drinks arrived in a pint jar. Broken down into tables of 6-8, plates of brisket and ribs, cornbread muffins, macaroni and cheese and green bean casserole were delivered until everyone was full. An assortment of desserts followed.
Nighttime tours of Washington DC were offered, showcasing the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial and the Iwo Jima Memorial Statue in alternating sleet and snow.
Tuesday morning featured breakfast with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who told the group he serves on the Ag Committee because he understands and comes from the agricultural field. The new farm bill will be the third one Brown has worked on during his tenure in Congress.
While healthcare is getting a lot of talk, Washington culture and The Hill is focused on opoid addiction. Brown told the group he is working on a bill with Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) to direct $1 billion over two years, to treat opoid addiction. “The waiting lists are too long and too slow,” he said. “Ohio is first in the nation in opoid deaths. This is something as a nation and a state, we need to get way more serious about.”
Brown referenced an article in the March 12 issue of The New York Times written by Jack Healy. Titled “As Heroin Infests Farms, A Grieving Parent Fears for the Future”, the article told the story of a Blanchester, OH, farmer who has lost two of his three children to overdoses. The surviving son is in recovery. Brown quoted from the article, “Overdoses are churning through agricultural pockets of America like a plow through the soil…”
Following breakfast, the original schedule was changed due to snow causing the government to be on a three-hour delay. Originally, members were going to be divided up to visit the Mexican and Costa Rican embassies. An international trade specialist from NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), Kenneth Smith Ramos, the secretaria de ecomonia Mexico, traveled to the Capital Holiday Inn to update Farm Bureau members about the US-Mexico trade relationship. “NAFTA is a huge thing for Mexico,” he stated. “Mexico is the United State’s third largest trading partner with $1.5 million of products traded bilaterally each day.”
After another catered luncheon shared with Iowa Farm Bureau members (Indiana Farm Bureau was scheduled for the luncheon also, but were unable to get to DC due to weather conditions), Randy Russell, president of The Russell Group, gave an insider’s view on the DC political landscape. He closed saying, “Donald Trump is doing just what he said he’d do. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride for the next three years and 10 months.”
Members and media had the opportunity to visit commodity groups, such as National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Pork Producers Council and National Milk Producers Federation. (Media was invited to visit National Milk, but was told everything said was “off the record.”)
Farm Bureau presidents and media went separate directions Tuesday evening. Members went to Fogo de Chao for the President’s Dinner. Media personnel were treated to a meal at The National Press Club with guest speaker, Spencer Chase of Agripulse. Adam Sharp, OFBF executive vice president, and Frank Burkett, president of OFBF Board of Trustees, attended the event.
Wednesday morning was spent on The Hill, beginning with breakfast with Senator Portman at the Capitol Hill Club. Representative Bob Gibbs (R-7th District) presented his annual Farm Forum at the club which was highlighted by a visit from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Ryan, once again, opened by saying, “O-H.” After the room replied, “I-O.” Ryan admitted, “That always hurts to say because I’m a badger.”
Ryan addressed the group for about 15 minutes before leaving for other commimtments.
Groups split up to visit their district representatives before heading to the airport for the flight home. County presidents from 11 counties Congressman Bill Johnson (R-6th District) represents met with the Congressman and addressed issues such as eminent domain and the trickle-down effect of gas and oil revenues. Johnson, who was called to the House, took time for a group picture before getting back to business.